Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Book Review: Forge of the Elders

Yesterday, I finished reading a sci-fi book Josh loaned me, L. Neil Smith's Forge of the Elders.  It was a pretty good read.  A bit preachy at times, and way over the top in both its plot twists, its pseudo-science, and its politics, but still a good, fun read.

Astronaut and Nautiloid having a kind of story!
The plot begins with an attempt by the American Soviet Socialist Republic to send three decommissioned space shuttles, full of folks the ASSR wouldn't mind if they don't make it back, to an asteroid that shows unusual amounts of carbon in a secret mission to try to revive the flagging communist economy.  Only the astronauts aren't the first people to land there...there are beings from alternate time-line Earths already there, searching for something.

The book is divided into three sections, and it reads like they were published separately.  The initial chapters of the second and third sections spend a fair amount of time explaining what's going on.  The pace is brisk, and twists and new revelations happen fairly quickly.  The first section is a murder mystery (who killed one of the ASSR crew and one of the Nautiloid Elders?).  The second section is a different type of mystery...why are the Nautiloids and their companion species all on the asteroid?  The third section deals with the resolution of the Nautiloids' mission (not what they thought it would be even!).  The ending leaves actually quite a fair amount unresolved.  I haven't checked, but I wouldn't be surprised if Mr. Smith has written or will someday write a sequel.

Reading the book, I kept wondering to myself if Smith was really some sort of Ayn Rand acolyte, or if he was just taking the piss out of those sorts of sci-fi writers.  The story is labeled as space opera, but it reads to me more like satire of space opera at times.  Looking for that image I put up at the top of the post just a few minutes ago, I saw a blurb saying that Smith is a die hard Libertarian.  So I guess it wasn't supposed to be satirical.  Still, even if you disagree with his politics (some points I can accept, others I reject), and those politics are fairly important to the plot, it still doesn't browbeat.  There are no Mary Janes, everyone has flaws in their modes of behavior and ways of thinking, even the ones Smith uses most to espouse his philosophy.

The one big mystery I'm left with is a little detail I picked up from the very first introduction chapter (and Josh had missed completely).  There's a connection to Sherlock Holmes and possibly to P.J. Farmer's Wold Newton Universe through Nero Wolf, but I haven't read enough Holmes or Farmer/Farmer-influenced writing to figure out if it's significant or just an Easter Egg for attentive readers.

Anyway, I liked it.  If you like quirky sci-fi and don't mind having Libertarian values shoved in your fiction left and right, you may enjoy it too.


  1. That's funny. It was so over the top, I thought he was having fun at everyone's expense.

  2. I couldn't bring myself to read more of his books after he dedicated one of them to Gordan Kahl.

  3. No idea who Gordon Kahl is. I feel a trip to Wikipedia coming on soon.

    Anyway, I thought Smith did a good job in this book of using so much humor that the message never felt overbearing. Unlike whichever Sword of Truth book made me swear off the series in disgust (I think it was book 5, although I read book 6 since my mom sent it to me and I was in Japan with limited English reading material and hated it even more than 5).

  4. Wouldn't Libertarian values be shoved in right and right?