Books

Review: Ring, by Stephen Baxter

Today, I am starting a departure from my normal “Hey, I made a microscopic change to HamQuest, check it out!” to give more than one dimension to my blithering web presence.

I will also preface this book review by stating that I do not do a lot of book reading as I once did. I read books primarily within the confines of a bathroom or while traveling on a plane or train, and since I rarely travel in these manners, I therefore read when in the bathroom.  So it can take me a relatively long time to get through a book.

Also, my sources of books are mostly from thrift stores, antique malls, and yard sales, mainly because I’m not going to pay $10 for a book that I am unlikely to read more than once, and because I actually like older books.

Today’s review is Ring, by Stephen Baxter. Here is the book on amazon. I picked it up at the Value Village in Racine, WI. I picked it up a while ago, so I do not remember what I paid for it, but it was likely something like a dollar.

Ring is “Hard Sci-Fi”, which means that the plot and story based within the book are based on contemporary scientific theories at the time of the writing(and usually some sort of extrapolations and embellishments upon these by the author). My views on cosmology and the origin of the universe do not agree with these theories (to put it as gingerly as I can), and so it did hamper the potential enjoyment of this book for me, so others in the general vicinity of my belief set can expect the same. Even though my views differ, I can still read such a book in the same way that I can read Greek myths and legends, which also have a different view of cosmology and I like them just fine.

One of the hallmarks of hard sci-fi is that the author often needs to present the contemporary theories to the reader, who cannot be assumed to be completely up on these theories.  This author, in the grand tradition of many authors before him, uses the “well-as-you-know” method of imparting this knowledge.

The “well-as-you-know” method looks like this:

Character A and Character B are talking about C, which is some sort of fundamental property of the universe, for example traveling at the speed of light.  Character A knows about the topic, but Character B does not know as much. This is the reader’s proxy, and transmitting the idea that a ship cannot go past the speed of light is done in the following manner:

B: This ship must be going five times the speed of light!

A: Well, as you know, the human race has not yet determined a way to actually travel faster than the speed of light, which is 3×10^8 meters per second. Instead we can travel at 99.99999% the speed of light, which causes a time dilation blah blah blah.

B: I didn’t know that!

This is reminiscent of the 50’s and 60’s B-movies, in which case B is some freckled kid who punctuates everything with “wow” and “jeepers”, and A is some old man with a pipe who pats B’s shoulder and rustles his hair as he explains the secrets of the universe.

This book had a great deal of “well-as-you-know”s, especially early on.

This book also had the following, non-exhaustive, list of science fiction tropes:

  • Generation ship
  • Pseudo immortality
  • Nanobots
  • Worm holes
  • Time dilation effects
  • Alien invaders
  • Faster than light travel(on the part of alien technology only, making it magic to humans)
  • Downloading a consciousness into a computer
  • Three-D projections by computers
  • Dark matter
  • Quantum Mechanics Ghosts
  • Doorway into an alternate universe
  • Superstrings
  • Singularities

One might think that I’m giving this book a bad review. In fact I am not. While I am not keeping this book on my shelf, it wasn’t awful. The story was engaging. I actually like tropes. I even sort of enjoy the “well-as-you-know” bits, provided they aren’t obnoxious, and they weren’t.

Another important thing is that this book is at the end of a series of books by the same author, and so reading those first might have helped.

I give it two and a half out of five starts, which is a rating of “didn’t hate it”. So, if you see it at a thrift store and need something in your “to read” pile, go for it.

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One thought on “Review: Ring, by Stephen Baxter

  1. Yeah, Baxter likes to do the “you are a fly on the wall while someone explains cosmology to someone else” exposition, if my other experiences with his books are any indication.

    Don’t, and I repeat don’t, read the books he wrote with Arthur Clarke. Whatever opinion you had of Clarke (and if you’re lucky, it’s based solely on the stuff he wrote before 1990), it’ll be lowered by that series.

    Shelly bought “Flood”, but didn’t like it much. Haven’t tried it yet.

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