Mania Grade: A
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- Authors: Larry Niven & Matthew Harrington
- Publisher: Tor/Forge
- Genre: Fantasy
- Format: Hardback, 320 pages
Book Review: The Goliath Stone
Speculative hard science fiction with a wickedly gleeful sense of satire
By Chuck Francisco
July 20, 2013
When I was a young boy there was a dangerously wondrous unknown. It was a phenomenon whose properties weren't completely understood, and thus its potential was exaggerated in a number of conflicting ways. I'm referring of course to radiation, with its amazing ability to alter the physiology of men such as Bruce Banner and Peter Parker, imbuing them with powerful supernatural abilities. As I grew, so did humanity's understanding of radiation, and thus it lost the super power mystique. It was briefly replaced with toxic waste (The Ninja Turtles), then firmly ousted by genetic modification (which saw a number of superheroes' backstories retconned), and now the sun is rising on Nanotechnology. The science of microscopic robots has cropped up as the go-to ability granting miracle in a number of stories: Bloodshot in comics, Revolution and Defiance on TV, and now in print with Ringworld author Larry Niven's new book The Goliath Stone (co-written with Soul Survivor author Matthew Harrington).
Flavor streams of hard science fiction combine with a sarcastic sense of parody to form the core of The Goliath Stone. Absurd present day politics and macho jingoistic tendencies are skewered with a feisty, gleeful revelry. There's a hard Libertarian sensibility which pervades the character's moral compass', but it's never so forceful as to detract from the enjoyment levels. It's effective because humor is the binding agent at work, taking on a tact of jolly reproach.
The nanites at the root of The Goliath Stone are cutting edge medical science, able to be programmed in such a way so as to cure many deadly ailments. However because the Untied States has taken a strictly Luddite approach to these developments, nanotechnology has been pushed to the black market. Eventually this upsets the current world order, as former third world counties adopt this tech without the superstitious reservations of Uncle Sam. The micro machines in question were sent out into space to intercept an asteroid on course to smash into our little safe haven amongst the cosmos. Once considered the hope of humanity, Doctor Toby Glyer's nanites stopped transmitting home, but that doesn't mean they have been inactive. As an even larger asteroid makes it way toward Earth under controlled propulsion, a number of factions seek out Dr. Glyer, and some will kill anyone who get in their way.
This is a light mystery story with far reaching speculation on the nature and evolving composition of man. It's a blazing fast read with wit and charm, though simultaneously it doesn't hand wave away the science bits. There's certainly some technobabble present, but it's evident that Niven and Harrngton have an expert level understanding of the subject matter (or they fake it really well). Their speculative tangents paint a thought provoking image of 2052; not only exploring how we might reach those places but also what the ramifications of such modifications may be. It's these questions which really propel this book beyond the rank and file of its brethren.
Your enjoyment of The Goliath Stone will depend upon two things: 'Do you find speculative science fiction fascinating and thought provoking?' And 'Do you enjoy humorous lampooning of the sorry state of our world's politics?'. An answer in the affirmative to either question means this is a read you'll dig; an answer in the affirmative to both questions means this is a book which you absolutely should not miss. I'm in the latter camp, which is why The Goliath Stone earns a solid 'A'. It's available now from Tor publishing in hardback for $24.99.
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Wednesday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.