So for my sins, I was assigned Mission to Minerva by James P. Hogan. This is the fifth book in the Giants series, of which I have read the first three and this one. Nothing I have heard about Entoverse (the one I missed) makes me want to hunt it down but when I was a teen, I was very fond of _Inherit the Stars_.
Bias calibration: I am on record as thinking Hogan succumbed to the Brain Eater years ago. I base this on the crank theories he promotes on his website (and in his books, but there's really no way to tell just from a book if the author is using the idea because they think it makes for a good story or because they really truly think Jupiter horks out Venus sized loogies from time to time). Recently I discovered Hogan is a defender of David Irving and a promoter of the Institute for Historical Review as a news site, and swore off reading Hogan. A discussion with my boss in which various valid points were made convinced me to read this one for them, although I am sure they would accepted a no from me.
Good news: there's isn't any hint of the "You know, all that stuff you learn about WWII about the You Know Who and the You Know What is just a bunch of lies" I was afraid would be in here (Maybe SF just isn't ready for oblique attempts at Holocaust denial). There is, however, a nice sampling of the other crackpot theories Hogan is fond of, from "HIV is a hoax" to "Modern evolutionary theory is completely wrong".
The book is really two books:
Book One: the Mission to Minerva
Our heroes discover that there is an infinite multiverse out there. They very quickly discover how to probe other timelines and what the limits of this ability are. Since they know from an earlier book that time travel is possible (and in fact the present timeline is a result of tinkering by malevolent ideologues from the 21st century 50,000 years in the past) they then have to consider whether they want to probe into the past to save other universes from the horrors their universe has suffered through (yes) and whether the fact that due to the scale of the universe makes this effort totally futile since they will save one world while aleph something others go down in flames and terror (No). This being the sort of novel it is, all of this is compressed into less time than the design cycle for a new car.
Well into the book, the rescue effort begins. There's actually a quite touching scene where a man from one of the doomed worlds they contact for research purposes is offered the chance to escape his world's coming doom, which I will not spoil, but for the most part even the catastrophes that confront our heroes are easily overcome by applying the knowledge they have and the enemy does not. Unfortunately, Hogan has a very hard time killing off his protagonists, so don't expect any sacrifice in this book by a major character to last more than a chapter or two.
There is no reason this could not have been a ripping yarn. The problem is that Hogan has but one way to convey information to the reader and that is the lengthy infodump. There was one 50 page section that had 40 pages of infodump in it, completely crowding the cardboard characters offstage.
Oh, and Hogan's treatment of non-whites is non-hostile but quaint, with a self-declared "Inscrutable Oriental Character". His women appear to come from 1950s ditzy sitcoms.
Book Two: Tinfoil Hat Land
Hogan supports a lot of theories with dubious experimental support, mentioned above. He also has strong opinions about why human society sucks. He introduces a character whose only role is to compare and contrast the society of the alien Giants to human cultures, always finding that the humans are culturally inferior and immature. She then writes a book on the subject, one that she modestly admits is much better than the bible.
It's actually possible to do this sort of thing skillfully. One of the delightful parts in the Rosinante trilogy is the development of a religion designed for space and how it snowballs out of the control of the founder. Hogan's problem is that he has a hard time showing people honestly disagreeing (Some time evil people and good people disagree but there is no abiguity over who is correct)so the process leading up to the writing of the book is a sequence of characters breathlessly agreeing with various hobby horse of Hogan's.
Overall, there was an ok novella trying to escape from this. Nothing in this book beyond the identity of the author required it to be so very, very bad.
- A Short But Unkind Review