02 November 2012

Review: Mission to Minerva by James P. Hogan

Kindle eBook, n.pag.
Published 2005
Acquired June 2012

Read July 2012
Mission to Minerva
by James P. Hogan

I loved Inherit the Stars but haven't been loving its sequels; one of my problems has been that the original novel sets up this great image of humanity clinging on beyond all hope and managing to survive when they home planet of Minerva is destroyed, the survivors riding it out on Minerva's moon as it is flung into orbit of Earth. The later novels have ignored this image, focusing on the Ganymeans, who were really only in Inherit the Stars to explain how humanity could both originate on Minerva and also share characteristics with other Earth animals. When they did focus on it, they undermined it; we've been told since that the Ganymeans scooped up the Minervans and deposited them on Earth, which is nowhere near as cool.

I was excited, then, to see that the last book in the Minervan series, Mission to Minerva would return us to that original, captivating piece of mythology. Charlie and Koriel, and all that.

Well, I should have expected that Mission to Minerva would just be the most recent disappointing sequel, the worst book in the series in fact. The first half of the book is spent working out Hogan's own hard scientific ideas for time travel, which could perhaps be possible to someone who hasn't read decades of sf that takes both time travel and alternate universes as a part of the landscape.

Hogan could maybe get away with this if it was interesting... but it's not. Not remotely. The first book made scientific problem-solving accessible and exciting; this one makes it into dull gibberish.  Here's a key moment in the novel:
"Standing waves." She turned her head back and focused on him. "Defining a structure distributed through a volume of space. That's the way to halt a test object! It propagates as a longitudinal M-wave function. If we project an interference function to create a standing wave in resonance with the normal transverse solution, it will lock into the target universe. It would force the object to materialize there."
But of course! How could I not have figured it out myself? It was obvious!

Once the characters do travel back in time to Minerva, the book doesn't really get any better. Even the original breakdown of Minervan relations turns out to go back to Jevlenese crazies-- can't humans ever do anything terrible for themselves? It doesn't help that Hogan is unable to write villainous characters without making them one-note and brutish. Complex politics are certainly not his forte.  Also, there's not even a sign of Charlie and Koriel!

When I read Entoverse, I complained about Hogan's reactionary politics. I should have counted my blessings; Mission to Minerva has characters explaining how a new glorious age is going to come into existence ad nauseam. When he shows this instead of telling it, it almost works: the book's closing image of Earthers, Jevlenese, Ganymeans, and Minervans united in a common cause is almost uplifting. But that's one moment in an overlong novel.

Inherit the Stars will always remain a favorite novel of mine. But the only one of the sequels that has even been vaguely worth my time is Giants' Star; this is definitely a case where I should have quite while I was ahead.

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