Monday, October 23, 2017

Derring-Do on the Moon and Beyond (Poul Anderson: Harvest the Fire)

     Poul Anderson. Harvest the Fire (1995)  Setting: a far-future Earth is governed and served by the cybercosm, a self-aware network of computers which could store the self-aware digital versions of humans, who by this process became part of it. It also creates sophotects, self-aware autonomous artificial intelligences that via robotic extensions of themselves carried out the grunt work that humans no longer want to do.
     Plot: Some Lunarians (genetically modified humans adapted to life in low gravity) want to steal a batch of anti-matter. One of them, Falaire, seduces Jesse Nicol, a space pilot who wants to write poetry. Nicol is drawn into the conspiracy, but a (temporarily) downloaded person, Venator, has been deployed to prevent the plot. Venator is captured by Lirion, but on the flight to the anti-matter transport vessel, Nicol discovers him, and must decide how to proceed. In the end, he joins the conspirators, but on how own terms.
     Writing: better than average for SF. Anderson invents characters to suit his plot and setting, but skilfully enough that they can carry the themes. The book has the marks of pulp-fiction: swift development, jumps in narrative, no digressions, just enough description to allow us to imagine the social as well as the physical setting. That makes for a quick read, but the lack of room to explore more implications of the themes limits the appeal of the book. I liked it, but would have been just as happy with a fatter volume with tangled plotlines, more characters, more stories. Above average pulp fiction. **½

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