Eater, Gregory Benford
(HarperCollins/Eos 0-380-97436-3, $24, 340pp, hc, May 2000)
Gregory Benford's new novel is a scientific thriller, somewhat in the mode of his 1980 classic Timescape, writes Gary K. Wolfe in the April 2000 Locus, combining:
''...Benford's talent for believably depicting scientists at work with his capacity for provocative and original hard SF invention and his desire to keep it all accessible to an entry-level SF audience more interested in suspense and spectacle than in speculative physics. This may sound like an uncookable recipe, but fortunately, with his new novel Eater, Benford comes closer to bringing it off than ever before.''
The book begins with evidence of an unusual astronomical artifact, a repeating gamma ray burster; the story is at first
''an astronomical puzzle, and in rapid succession turns into a first contact tale, a world-threatening disaster epic, a tragic romance, a space adventure, and an ontological fable that returns to his favorite themes about the relation of organic to artificial intelligences in the universe.''
The artifact seems to be a black hole but is also intelligent and chatty, having collected samples of various civilizations along its journeys and now demanding the uploaded minds of several hundred humans.
''Eater is probably the best of Benford's hard-SF thrillers to date ... for the first time [Benford] gives us an intellectual thriller with the real characters of his most ''mainstream'' work and the provocative ideas of his hardest SF. It's a mixture that works, if not quite seamlessly, in ways that are both very impressive and very satisfying.''
Jonathan Strahan (in the April issue) and Russell Letson (in the May):
''Benford excels at depicting scientists doing real science and at providing a window into the politics of science. ... Eater is an intelligent, gripping science thriller that will reward any science fiction reader.''
''Even in the face of huge events and special-effects sequences, Benford manages to keep the characters and the human-scale issues important... In fact, it's just this kind of juggling that characterizes the best of Benford's work, and Eater -- more serious than Cosm, more upbeat and extroverted than Timescape -- is Benford's most Benfordesque book in quite a while.''