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The Forge of God by Greg Bear

The Forge of God (1987)

by Greg Bear

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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In the middle of the Australian desert, a mountain has appeared where there was no mountain before. Silvery robotic aliens emerge, promising to usher humanity into a new era of technological development, of peace and prosperity. Meanwhile, in Death Valley in California, a similar mountain has appeared – but emerging from this one (and quickly kept under wraps by the US government) is a frail, dying, biological alien, which informs its captives in perfect English that “there is bad news.”

The first third of The Forge of God is probably the most gripping sci-fi mystery I’ve read since Christopher Priest’s Inverted World. The government’s interrogation of the Death Valley alien, termed “the Guest,” is wonderfully ominous and provides tantalising glimpses at what is to come; the alien’s own limitations in the English language are both believable and serve to obscure precisely what it is that’s about to happen to the Earth. Without giving too much away, the Guest is an effectively powerless agent which is merely here to warn us, setting the scene for some kind of alien invasion or destruction.

The title is more than just a metaphor; religion plays a significant part in The Forge of God. The fictional US President, Crockerman, is a devout Christian who is visibly shaken by what the Guest has to say, and interprets it theologically. He eventually comes to believe that he has encountered an angel proclaiming Judgement Day, and that all that is left for the people of Earth to do is pray. Other sci-fi writers might have made Crockerman a scornful caricature, but Bear presents him reasonably and realistically – he is neither stupid nor crazy, and faced with the information he has, and the genuine faith he has, I found his reaction to be eminently believable. (Bear himself is apparently a deist, which goes some way to explaining this.)

It’s a shame, therefore, that Crockerman’s action or lack thereof ultimately has little value, along with most of the rest of the characters in the book. The second two thirds fail to capture the cracking pace of the first, and towards the end the book begins to drag as the characters are faced with their apparent inevitable doom.

This is largely a problem of character. A hard sci-fi writer like Bear is fantastic at coming up with intriguing concepts and putting them inside an enjoyable pot-boiler – the kind of book you can happily burn through on an airplane or beach holiday – but not so great at the slower, more introspective stuff demanded of somebody who has chosen to write about humans living out their last days. He has, for example, that annoying belief common in many sci-fi and thriller writers that characterisation involves giving a physical description of somebody. Every time a character is introduced, no matter how irrelevant, you can bet Bear’s going to tell us how old they are, what colour their hair is and what they’re wearing. The entire first page is actually a rundown of the main character’s physical description. And, typical of writers who do this, all his characters are cardboard cut-outs; mostly white, middle-aged scientists or political advisors with names like Arthur or Edward or Harry. I wish Bear had stuck to his strengths, ignored all the attempted end-of-days sadness, and kept us on the roller-coaster ride the first third of the book is.

One more minor complaint: given that the only scene in the book set outside the US takes place in Australia (and a fairly important scene at that), it wouldn’t have killed Bear to do some light research. I realise Google didn’t exist in the 1980s, but a cursory glance at an encyclopaedia could have told him that Melbourne is not the capital, the Australian Army does not use the “royal” prefix, there are in fact real TV networks and scientific organisations you can use rather than made-up ones, etc. It’s a small thing, and one that non-Australian readers wouldn’t notice, but it annoyed me a lot given that Bear is obviously not averse to a bit of factual reading.

Overall, the The Forge of God begins extremely well – reminiscent of Michael Crichton at his best – but unfortunately loses paces halfway through and ends in mediocrity. It’s nevertheless worth reading for hard sci-fi fans for the first third alone, and despite being less interesting towards the end, it’s still a quick and easy read. There is a sequel, Anvil of the Stars, which I may check out. ( )
  edgeworth | Jul 8, 2014 |
Just read for a second time. First time was back around when it was first published, and would have gotten 3 stars but I see more in it now. This and Anvil of Stars are in my list of top scifi books for believable interstellar conflict. I hope they are prescient. ( )
  crookesy | Apr 4, 2013 |
Ive read many post-apocalyptic stories, but this is the first pre-apocalyptic book Ive encountered! And Bear does a very good job.
Written in 1987 and set in the mid 90s, a strange object appears in the American desert resembling a volcano cone, and next to it is found a strange dying alien, The alien speaks English and has a message for Earth: "I'm afraid I have bad news".
Later a second cone is found in Australia but this time mechanical beings, robots, appear around it and they appear benevolent. While in the US the scientists are getting worried, those in Australia believe the aliens are our allies....
This is hard SF but its very reader friendly; there's no scientific preaching or technobabble, and despite being over 450 pages the story flows really well. So much so I'd have to say this is the best Greg Bear book I've read so far! As such it gets a well deserved 5 stars. ( )
  sf_addict | Feb 2, 2013 |
Very depressing. Who wants to read chapter after chapter of people waiting for the world to end and then a couple of chapters of the world actually being torn apart? ( )
  rfentres | Oct 7, 2012 |
I thought I was going to enjoy this book a lot more than I did, as it was nominated for a number of awards, but disappointingly in practice it didn't really work for me at all.

Jupiter's moon Europa has suddenly disappeared: not exploded or knocked out of orbit, just gone. And then new geographical features appear on the Earth overnight where none existed before, a miniature Ayers Rock in the Australian Desert and a new cinder cone in Death Valley, from which appears an English speaking alien bearing the bad news that the Earth is about to be completely and inevitably destroyed by a different alien race who have previously destroyed its own planet. Scientists Arthur Gordon and Harry Feinman are recruited as part of a US presidential advisory committee to deal with the situation, but are soon sidelined as the president becomes convinced that the destruction is part of God's plan to punish a erring human race and that the coming destruction is the biblical apocalypse. While the president pursues his own path, there are increasing calls for him to be impeached, but political machinations look increasingly unimportant as the destruction of the Earth seems more and more likely.

I had a number of issues with this book which cumulatively meant that I didn't enjoy it very much - OK at best:

- It was far too US centric. OK I know that every disaster film ever made in the history of the world is US centric but at least you usually do have the obligatory picture of the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben toppling to the ground. After the initial interest with Australia there is hardly any indication there any others countries exist at all. This wouldn't be a problem for me if the book focused on the reaction of people other than politicians or top class scientists, but it doesn't - surely the end of the world would have needed a little bit of international communication? Particularly with the increasingly erratic pronouncements from the US president?

- There are no credible female characters - and this is a book that was written in 1987 not 1957. Women appear as wives, girlfriends or potential girlfriends to the all-important male scientists and politicians.

- The end of the world scenario just didn't ring true for me - no riots, no major civil disorder - just everyone mainly going about their normal business or coming together in a happy clappy sort of way. And I found the characterisation of the main characters as Armageddon approaches a little unbelievable as well.

There seems to be a sequel Anvil of the Stars but I don't think I'll be looking out for that one in a hurry ( )
1 vote SandDune | Jul 28, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
The disappearance of one of Jupiter's moons, the appearance of "little green men" in Australia and the American Southwest, and the sudden presence of unidentifiable objects on a collision course inside the Earth's core add up to the inescapable conclusion that the Earth has been invaded by an enemy it cannot fight. Powerfully and gracefully written, the latest novel by the author of Eon and Blood Music stands far above most examples of "doomsday" science fiction. Recommended.

» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Greg Bearprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gutierrez, AlanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moore, ChrisCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Russo, CarolCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

Has the (non-series) sequel

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For Alan Brennert, who gave me hell on TV.
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Arthur Gordon stood in the darkness by the bank of the Rogue River, having walked a dozen yards away from his house and family and guests, momentarily weary of company.
For a moment, and no more, he felt himself slide into a spiritual ditch, a little quiet gutter of despair. To simply give up, give in, open his arms to the darkness, shed all responsibility to country, to wife and son, to himself. To end the game--that was all it was, no? Take his piece from the board, watch the board swept clean, a new game set up. Rest. Oddly, coming out of that gutter, he took encouragement and strength from the thought that if indeed they were going to be swept from the board, he could then rest, and there would be an end. Funny how the mind works.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0765301075, Paperback)

On September 28th, a geologist working in Death valley finds a mysterious new cinder cone in very well-mapped area.

On October 1st, the government of Australia announces the discovery of an enormous granite mountain. Like the cinder cone, it wasn't there six months ago....

Something is happening to Planet Earth, and the truth is too terrifying to consider....

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:21:09 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

One of Jupiter's moons suddenly disappears, and shortly after, a mysterious mound - a disguised spaceship - is found in the Californian desert. Alan Gordon, science advisor to the President feels something terrible is going to happen.

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