Without further delay let’s look at that point, the story “The Way of All Ghosts” from 1999.
Contrary to what I was expecting, William Hope Hodgson does not show up as a “ghost” (like Edgar Allan Poe did in Eternity) in this, the last published story in Bear’s Way series though.
Bear makes no secret of the story’s link to Hodgson. It’s dedicated to Hodgson. Bear’s introductory notes talk about Hodgson and The Night Land.
As with Eternity, I am not entirely sure I understood this story. Perhaps my brain has rotted. Perhaps I’m out of practice reading hard science fiction. Perhaps I’m just no longer tuned in to Bear’s literary frequency.
My suspicion is that Bear wanted to do a novel using the strange ecology and biology of Lamarckia and decided to incorporate it into his Way series.
This book is narrated by Olmy, military man, secret agent, and fixer for the Hexamon. We finally learn the details of the mission that got him the gratitude of the Hexamon and an extra bodily incarnation.
It’s a prequel to all the Way novels. Besides Olmy, the only characters that seem to be present from the other books is the gate opener Ry Ornis and Konrad Korzenowski, here still, of course, a downloaded mind residing in an implant in Olmy’s skull.
We hear more of Olmy’s upbringing. While he had Naderite parents, he has Geshel sympathies (hence the implants). He’s ambitious and serving in the Hexamon defense forces and, by his own admission, somewhat callow.
He is selected to go on a secret mission to Lamarckia, one of those planets accessed through the Way. Lamarckia has a strange biology. As the name suggests, life does not operate there on the principles of Darwinian evolution. The planet is divided into zones, ecoi, ruled over by a scion, an entity that creates new biological forms and “samples” (as in taking genetic samples) new lifeforms (even humans) entering its zone and generates new forms. This is not evolution by random mutation sieved through fitness criteria determined by the environment or sexual competition. In fact, there is no sexual reproduction. The different scions don’t reproduce with each other. It is speculated that there may be an intelligence, a queen, directing Lamarckia’s version of evolution in each ecoi.
The political aspects of the story involve a breakway group of Naderites, about 4,000, “divarticates”, who secretly settle Lamarckia and take two of the “clavicles”, the instruments that manipulate openings in the Way, with them. The group was led by Jamie Carr Lenk aka Able Lenk.
The various factions of the upper Hexamon government want to know what’s been happening on Lamarckia and the return of those clavicles.
Stripped of his implants to maintain his cover, Olmy is dumped on Lamarckia.
What he finds when he gets to Lamarckia is that 35 years have passed on the planet, not ten, due to the differential rates of time when passing through an imprecisely tuned gate. Second the colony has experienced famine and now is in the midst of a civil war.
Right from the start, Lenk’s conspiracy was undercut by people who followed him onto Lamarckia but had their own agenda. The inability to grow a lot of normal crops on the planet and its lack of metals further exacerbated the strife.
There were breakaway groups of radical feminists resentful of their status as little more than baby factories. Piracy exists. Children are kidnapped to prop up declining populations. Others have become wistful for the medicines and other technologies they abandoned in the Way. There’s even a small underground expecting a Hexamon agent like Olmy.
I liked the political aspects of the novel, and the final revelations of the personal rancor and slights behind a major political schism seemed realistic.
But I found the exploration of the alien biology tedious at times. Olmy goes on a voyage to finally complete the circumnavigation of Lamarckia and makes friends and starts a love affair.
It all goes wrong at the end. The brutality on Lamarckia ends with an ecological change unleashed by a breakaway group. Olmy, who has been appalled by what he sees in the colony, reconciles himself to it. It’s just another unpleasant episode in human history.
Of course, Olmy survives all this – but not before living a along and unpleasant life on Lamarckia before he is rescued. In keeping with a theme that runs throughout the series, there is an argument on the value of death in human societies.
I’d say, despite the biological speculation – a Bear specialty – this is the least appealing of the Way novels.
But, next posting, we’ll finally arrive at the intersection of the Way and the Night Land.
I liked this book better than its predecessor, Eon.
For one thing, Bear summed up the nature of the Way with a concise metaphor instead of the bits and pieces of, for me, confusing superscience that were in the last novel. One character describes the Way thus:
‘The tunnel itself an immense tapeworm curling through the guts of the real universe, pores opening onto other universes equally real but not our own, other times real and equally real’
That character is Pavel Mirsky. He went off, down the Way with other humans at the end of Eon. Now he’s back from the end of time and, seemingly, from another universe.
Secondly, other characters from the prior novel appear, and they mostly manage to be more interesting this time.
Of the Old Native stock, as the members of the Hexamon refer to the humans that survived the nuclear war of 2015, the major returning characters are Gary Lanier, now acting as a liaison and administrator between the Hexamon’s recovery efforts – managed, of course, from Thistledown orbiting Earth – and those stuck on Earth. He’s now married to Karen. Continue reading “Walking the Night Land: A Detour (Eternity)”→
Well, we’re now traveling down the Way, Greg Bear’s far future/time travel/alternate history/superscience series at the end of which, I’ve been told lies something to do with William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land.
There was a time, after I read Greg Bear’s Blood Music¸The Forge of God, and Queen of Angels, I enjoyed him enough, thought him an important enough science fiction writer, that I was going to read all his books. So, I bought a lot of Greg Bear as it came out and his earlier works. However, in my usual desultory way, I didn’t actually read any Bear novels between 1990 and this year. Still, I just had to pull the books off my shelf to read this series.
However, returning to Bear’s novels was not as enjoyable as hoped.
Since the point of reading this now is to get to the end of the series where Hodgson will somehow show up, I’m not going to dwell in detail on it.
I’ve read plenty of dated science fiction so a 1985 novel that imagined a limited nuclear war between the US and USSR in 1991, the year the latter of those countries ceased to exist, didn’t bother me.
It was the confusing plot, the superscience that seemed rather hand-wavy for a “hard sf” novel, justifications built on references to higher dimensions, talk of
probability without extension. Half-spaces, quarter-spaces, spaces composed of irrational fractions . . . geodesics,
The subtitle of this blog is “Literary Reconnaissance into the World of Books”. Think of this as following the Greg Bear river downstream to see deposits of Hodgson. I’m told that, at the end of the Thistledown aka the Way series, Hodgson’s influence shows up. That series begins with the title story of this collection.
The very memorable title of Bear’s eponymous story comes not from him but a Michael Bishop poem.
Bear’s “Introduction” to this, his first collection, talks about how science fiction served as a gateway for much later reading in philosophy, history, and literature. It also talks some about how each story came to be. Bear, at this point in his career, doesn’t seem to plot his stories out much in advance.
“The Wind from a Burning Woman” comes from an intellectual exercise. Bear, appalled by the idea of terrorism, decided to confront its morality by giving his terrorist a motive dear to his heart, space exploration.
Even if I hadn’t looked at the copyright page, I would have guessed this is an Analog story from the 1970s or 1980s. Its villains are Naderites, followers of the “good man” Ralph Nader. He along with, as I recall, Senator William Proxmire and Jeremy Rivkin were occasional real-life villains in the technophilic pages of Analog.
It isn’t just Greg Bear saying in interviews that this novel was both a homage to William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land and Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars or critics guessing that. Hodgson shows up right on page 398, and Bear subsumes the man and his novel into his own creation:
’Like a battlefield,’ said Glaucous. ‘I walked the trenches around Ypres, almost a hundred years ago, looking for a particular gent – a fine strapping fellow and a poet. He dreamed, so I was led to believe, of a place he called the Last Redoubt. He’d written a book before shipping out, detailing his dreams . . . But the war had already blown him to bits. Lean years for hunters, during wartime.’
Everything I’ve ever heard about Stapledon is correct judging on the basis of this novel. He was a totally unique voice in sf when this novel was published, and he is still totally unique. His epic style in which millions of years can routinely pass in the space of a paragraph often has a religious flavor to it harkening back to psalms (his first book of poetry was called Latter-Day Psalms).
The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (in a blurb at the front of this book) claims Stapledon is the second most influential writer in sf next to Wells. I think that claim is arguable. Certainly Wells introduced, or gave a big boost, to such perennial sf motifs as time travel, alien invasion, surgery on/genetic manipulation of animals, the far future story, the physical evolution of man. Stapledon creates few new ideas, but his epic style and his spiritual concerns are different than Wells’. [Certainly, I would put Stapedon in the top five most influential science fiction writers.]