Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The World At the End of Time

Frederik Pohl

A mixed bag. Starts out quite slow and generic--practically a textbook Pohl scenario and a protagonist very similar to what he's offered before. It becomes more engaging about a hundred pages in, showing the gradual transformation of the human settlement and the long-term challenges they have to confront. The frequent interludes with the alien intelligence that's posing all these problems is quite flat, however--far too familiar an archetype and rendered with a preponderance of stylistic humor that grates. It feels after a certain point less like use of sharp character moments and humor as a part of the story and more a way of marking time while we check in with the big science fictional developments that overhaul the setting. Even though I haven’t seen this specific formula of galactica alien civil war and long-term growth of a planetary colony, but in the way events deveop and the style by which change grows it feels like I have. What keeps it grounded to an extent is Pohl’s commitment to humanity, his focus on delivering a story rather than flattering fan sentiment or groving some path that only interests him. Overall one of Pohl's less engaging novels, but it’s worthwhile to look at it and see that even in his weaker aspects the things that prevent Pohl from deliveirng a dull or structurally failed novel. So far I haven’t seen a work that falls into the narrative pit that infected even Clarke and Asimov’s later writing, and that became the stock in trade on a grandiose scale for Heinlein’s later career. Given that, there’s perhaps more reason to regard Pohl as a well balanced science fiction author worth taking seriously as one of the greats. Even when he writes at his most dosjointed and predictible, he’s still not bad, and that’s worth celebrating.

Worse than: The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth
Better than: Harbringer by Jack Skillingstead

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