Reviews

Eon, by Greg Bear

bonfire_at_night's review against another edition

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5.0

Eon is everything I want from a science-fiction novel, and more. The plot is full of mind-blowing reveals grounded in ideas that are bigger than life. Rather than being dead weight elaborated in textbook expositions (if you've read Neal Stephenson you'll know what I mean), it's part of the thrill that our conceptual capacities may be too limited to grasp what is going on. All too human, we as a species are our own worst enemy in this quest for knowledge.

In the early 21st century, an asteroid, officially called "Juno", has entered near-Earth orbit and the rival sides of the ongoing Cold War both claim this extra extraterrestrial object for their own. When the "Stone" (also variously called "Potato" or "Whale" by other nations) is later examined from up close, the extensive research mission makes sheer unbelievable discoveries. Not only has the entire celestial body been hollowed out and terraformed, leading to seven vastly different chambers and artificial gravity, they find highly advanced cities in the second and third of those spaces. In the seventh chamber, they come across "the Way" (eponymous for the series of which Eon is the first part), a "corridor" that evidently goes well beyond the confines of the Stone itself, quite possibly ad infinitum. If you've watched Doctor Who, you'll be familiar with this idea.

Since this is the kind of novel about which you cannot talk without introducing spoilers, I decided to go all in. Things are way more complicated than that. Not only is there the already mentioned evidence that the Stone is from the future, and not only is it clear that it's from humanity's future (or past?) - it doesn't seem to be from our future (confused yet?). One big question is, where did everyone go to (about five hundred years ago)? Why did the former civilization abandon the Stone?

In another respect Bear ups the ante. As the researchers find in the historic reports in the libraries of the two cities, the events in the past of the humanoid Stone dwellers differ in crucial respects from our own. Think about it, in their past we may find clues about our future (how exciting is that?). Alarmingly, there had been a nuclear war between the US and Russia, and in many respects the current constellations are frighteningly similar to how they had been in this alternative reality. Strategic secrecy is inevitable.

Although the events are of enormous scope, the story is pleasantly character-driven. The main protagonist is Patricia Vasquez, a mathematician whose out-of-the-box thinking in her dissertation made her an ideal choice for the problem at hand. Especially the first act is very intriguing, as together with her the reader is only gradually introduced to the Stone's mysteries. At first, the abnormalities are only hinted at and at least to a certain degree you do feel the tensions in the intergovernmental relations. The interpersonal relationships are admittedly not very memorable, but (as in Darwin's Radio) there is enough heart and personality to take a shine to them. So, when the story approaches its end, you feel as if you've joined them on an epic journey.

It's not only the Russians that they fear. Since they don't know where the original habitants disappeared to, it cannot be ruled out that they return from the seventh chamber (are they watching us?). To my mind, the novel's tone changed considerably when they finally do make an appearance. Before it was mainly the Americans that were in control of the situation. Later on things are more or less just happening to them and they don't possess even a fraction of the information that would be necessary to assess their benefactors' motives and goals.

Here I was very much reminded of H. G. Wells's The Time Machine, not only because the genetically engineered population appears so fully unaffected, but also because their civilization is completely alien. The plot becomes much less streamlined, which does make you feel the frustration and insignificance. It's only at the very end that Patricia finds the strength to become active again. I have to admit, it was a bit too out-there for me at that point, though I did feel the excitement when she initially arrived back on Earth (what would she find?).

The multiverse introduces highly enjoyable moments of lateral thinking. I've already mentioned how they discover clues about their past from the future. It's mentioned that in their past there was no gigantic asteroid spaceship while in our present there are two (one simple rock, one spaceship), one being the material to form the other. I may have gotten that part wrong, though. The impending nuclear war takes your breath away, too, especially when it actually does take place later on. It's not the end of the world, but three to four billion people die. Talking about high stakes.

There are some parts of scientific jargon that I always appreciate. For instance, Patricia sets out to check whether our familiar "constants" (like the gravitational or Planck's constants) are the same on the Stone. Somehow she even tries to determine the value of Pi, an operation whose meaning I didn't quite grasp. The concepts of the field that she is specialized in was way over my head, too (I guess that was the idea). I've studied philosophy, so maybe I just take delight in dwelling on the unintelligible.

As I've said, much about the alien society remains impenetrable. There are aspects we can understand, though. As in many other works of science-fiction, personalities can be stored. For one thing, this gives them a backup copy in case of terminal injury, as there are of course still fatal mishaps that not even the highly advanced medicine can protect against. I also liked the idea of virtual replicas (or "ghosts") that take commands from the original and whose experiences can later be reunited. There are rules, though. I think it's said that due to population limitations the citizens are allowed only two reincarnations. They overcame emotional reactions, though I think it's said that they use drugs to induce them occasionally. Because of their lamentable capacity for feeling, the guests are met with much curiosity.

One aspect that was mostly only hinted at and that may be further explored in the sequels and prequels, their hosts (the Hexamon) is only one civilization among others. The Way leads to the dwelling places of alien species, trading partners and potential enemies. Here the story felt a bit rushed, though I have to say that I was very much intrigued.

Overall, I cannot emphasize enough how much I enjoyed Eon. It's really the ultimate nerd novel that still somehow manages to be a big page-turner. Now I really wonder what could possibly be left to be discovered in the other Way novels.

Rating: 5/5

jeremiah_mccoy's review against another edition

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5.0

This book was an odd. It is rare to come across a book that is hard to sum up in a single long sentence. The elevator pitch works for so many books, but not here. Eon was written during the cold war and you can clearly feel that in the book. The fear of Nuclear Armageddon was part of my childhood, and this book brought those memories back. The base premise of the book involves time travel but not in the way people think of it normally. I will put spoilers behind a tag.

Spoiler
The Stone (or Potato if you prefer) is actually an object from a potential future that shows the oncoming nuclear war, the aftermath and the society that forms after. The people of the present, which is the predicted future at the time the book was written and in our past, find this asteroid from the future and the evidence of their future history. They are not able to save their world from nuclear war and end up running afoul of the their future descendants and their own political struggles.


Ultimately I really liked this book. The ending is not as strong as the first two parts but it is good. I think a few lingering parts are not resolved super well, and there are some relationship stuff that feels mildly forced, but really those are super minor quibbles. This is a well deserved classic.

adunten's review against another edition

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4.0

A huge asteroid appears from nowhere and inexplicably enters Earth's orbit. Teams of astronauts and scientists are sent to investigate. If this were an Arthur Clarke novel, a good deal of the story would be devoted to the experience of those first teams, their initial landing on the Stone, their discovery that it is not what it seems to be-- or at least, it is much more than just an asteroid-- and their nervous excitement and trepidation as they enter and explore the mysterious interior.

But, no. Instead, Greg Bear skips that entire part of the story and takes us directly to a time when humans have been inhabiting and studying the Stone for four years. It took me at least 5 chapters to get over my hurt and anger at being robbed of that pleasure. I mean, who doesn't like exploring a mysterious space artifact??? Bear also robs us of the pleasure of discovering organically as we read that the “aliens” who built the centuries-old, abandoned-but-still-functional spaceship are apparently human – this is not a spoiler, as it's clearly disclosed in the jacket blurb and is disclosed early and bluntly in Chapter 2.

But eventually, I did get over being sore about these two seeming cheats, because the story that IS presented is so fascinating. Bear presents a wildly interesting and original picture of what futuristic human life might be like. Yes, it was published in 1984, and the politics are dated, but don't let that be an obstacle. If you're going to read a book featuring alternate universes, you might as well be willing to start out by positing an alternate universe where Soviet power is still a thing in 2005.

Some reviewers have called this a story about math, but it's not, really. Sure, the main character is a brilliant mathematician who can't stop the calculations in her head, in a “Beautiful Mind” sort of way. But there's no actual math in the story itself, and you don't need to be a math nerd to appreciate the concepts involved.

It's interesting to me to compare and contrast the futuristic humans of Greg Bear's Eon with the futuristic humans of Peter Hamilton's Commonwealth saga. Both are complete masters of genetic modification. Both have rendered the concept of mortality largely irrelevant by storing their personalities and memories in computer banks and downloading them to new bodies when convenient. But when it comes to what these people are really like, we see the difference between science fiction and space opera. Hamilton's future humans are basically just more beautiful versions of us, complete with all our 20th-century emotional foibles. But Bear has tried to imagine how the human psyche might develop as well. The result is almost more alien than the people who actually came from other planets.

Oh, and does it pass the Bechdel test? It does, and it features lots of smart, capable female characters who aren't oversexed. Go, Greg Bear.

mallorn's review against another edition

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mysterious reflective
  • Plot- or character-driven? Plot
  • Loveable characters? No

3.25

leftoverjen's review against another edition

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5.0

someone remind me to fill this in later cause this book was awesome

tome15's review against another edition

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4.0

Bear, Greg. Eon. The Way No. 1. Tor, 1985.
It is the 1985 version of 2005. The Soviet Union is still in power. Russia, China and the United States have well-established space programs capable of sending large numbers of people to visit a large asteroid that suddenly appears in an eccentric Earth orbit. They quickly discover that the rock is hollow and that it is a good deal larger on the inside than it is on the outside. It seems to have come from a timeline in Earth’s future. So begins Greg Bear’s Eon. There are several strongly developed characters and several that are little better than cardboard cutouts. The science is not badly thought out, as if ten-years down the road Bear wants to rewrite Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama so that we discover that we are the aliens. The politics seem to come straight out of a Tom Clancy novel, which should not surprise us since The Hunt for Red October was published just months before Eon. Indeed, there is one Russian military officer that reminds me strongly of Captain Ramius. There are several very good scenes, but the plot could stand some tightening up. On the whole, the book is very much a creature of its time but still an enjoyable read.

futuregazer's review against another edition

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5.0

Will attempt to return later and write a real review later, but for now: Awesome!

mysticping's review against another edition

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3.0

Too much sexism and soviet antagonism

lukre's review against another edition

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3.0

***mild spoilers***
Basically after the 60% mark the story sort of withers away in the complications and side-info-dumps. There are quite a few details that didn't need to be explained IMO. And the characters sort of got lost along the way - both in the crowd of characters and within themselves. Take Lanier for instance - from a perfectly understandable character at the start of the book we get a lech who can't keep his pants on at one moment. (oh, and let's not forget his "magic dick")
another thing that felt unnecessary at times - constant avoidance characters giving each other full (necessary) info. There's no point in hiding stuff from characters to just later on dedcide out of the blue to tell them everything. 
for instance - the taking of Patricia and then sringing her along for over 100 to then just tell her, listen up we need a piece of your personality... that could easily have been done straight away. 
what bothererd me most was the fact that the first half of the book was great!

kejadlen's review against another edition

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4.0

Really liked it as I was reading, but at the end, I was left a little unsatisfied. Loved the SF aspect, but the plot was lacking. 3.5 stars.