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A Short But Unkind Review
james_nicoll
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.

I had an extraordinary conversation with him a year ago. Nothing about HIV or Irving, but plenty about Darwin and conspiracy theories of why the US joined both world wars...

I still have fond memories of the first three Giants books, and also a couple of others from not too long thereafter. But I haven't touched a new one in some time, and frankly you're not motivating me to get out and do so, either.

He did not, as I recall, make a very good impression as Guest of Honor at Minicon in 1985. Shortly before I came back for that I did run into some people who still remembered him in DEC LCG (I was in LCG engineering at the time), who did like him personally, though, so I guess it's possible. Or was then.

I had the misfortune to be the only other person to show up to a panel at P-Con II last weekend, and thus had to sit through most of an hour of him regaling the audience with an explanation of why Velikovsky is a misunderstood genius. Didn't know about the (ack, spit) Irving bit, though.

Charming fellow, but completely round the twist and very much a creature of his place and times (i.e. Ireland, and about thirty years ago).

Well, as Charlie says, I've always found him to be charming, but I have to admit to seeing some loonieness as well. He assured me quite forcefully that should one of his young teenage daughters (this was some years ago --eek -- nearly 20) decide to have sex the decision was totally hers. If she thought she was old enough, that was the only view that counted. Completely ignoring that sex has influences on us which make decision making difficult for much older and more experienced people. And then there was the Libertarian stuff, but. Holocaust denial? Really?

MKK

Well, I never discuss how to raise kids because I have noticed people's views of this change entirely when they have them and not all of it can be an involunatory neurological change selected in by evolution. Since I don't have kids...

Hogan has never anywhere I have seen said "The Nazis did not kill umpty million Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals and so on." What he does do is promote people who do support positions like that (Irving, as I recall, just argued Hitler was unaware of the industrialized killings).

On a more pleasant note, I saw you and Jordan out in the Kuiper Belt recently, or at least characters with your names. Do you know Benford?


Irving, as I recall, just argued Hitler was unaware of the industrialized killings

At one point he was content to stop there (by his account, Himmler and Heydrich were responsible) but he's since gone beyond that. In 1994 he claimed that 600,000 Jews were killed (rather than six million); he's since gone up to four million and then back down to 'less than a million'. He's not entirely self-consistent, but his general position AFAICT is that the deaths were part of a slave labour program rather than deliberate extermination. By his account there were no gas chambers, and (by spurious argument) he claims it would have been physically impossible for Auschwitz to dispose of the number of people believed to have died there.

(See refs here for refs; Ron Casey is a nasty piece of work who came rather amusingly unstuck when he vilified Nokia under the misapprehension that they were a Japanese company.)

Oh, is that out now or did you get an ARC. Yes we know him. Jordin has done consulting work with him and his brother and we nearly always rendezvous at some point during a worldcon, that sort of thing.

MKK

ARC: I am the reader for Benford at the SFBC.

I took the book as an attempt to write something in the spirits of Clement, Sheffield and Forward. I think he succeeded, too.