Greg Bear gave himself a hefty job of work for this 473 page tome. The subject is the arrival of aliens on the surface of the earth, the gradual discovery of their motive to ‘eat’ the planet, and the reactions of science and politicos as the realization becomes certainty.
In some ways the internal plotting resembles Heinlein’s, The Puppet Masters, in others, Larry Niven’s, Lucifer’s Hammer. However, if you’re a reader who finds himself studying the characterization as the author develops it, the tool used in furthering the plot, you might find this one a bit annoying.
Although Greg Bear’s handling of the plot requires the introduction of a lot of characters for the reader to attempt to keep track of, he does a fairly craftsman-like job. He’s obviously aware of the problem and uses a lot of internal plotting to provide the reader with anchors of segment for each of them to assist. If he hadn’t been a workmanlike writer he’d never have succeeded as well as he did, which isn’t to say he succeeded completely. Greg Bear’s skill at characterization kept the work from becoming a complete disaster.
The plot develops rather slowly, and to keep the interest of the reader the author introduces a number of not-often-used event features as crucial pieces of his plot. This served in my instance to keep me determined to finish the book.
The concepts Greg Bear introduces are compelling enough to cause me to pause in the reading about 2/3 of the way through to allow some digestion of it all before continuing. There was no temptation to leave it alone after a day, but I found when I returned I found I already had to reorient myself, reacquaint myself with the individuals connected to names among his multitude of characters, briefly re-study which sub-plot I’d absented myself from when I stopped to contemplate what he was doing.
I believe authors could gain a lot of benefit by carefully studying Bear’s handling of a complex plot broken constantly by updating internal, brief sub-plots, and constant shuffling a population of characters within. Before reading the book I might have thought it was an impossible task. After reading it I’d conclude it was merely improbable in a Tolstoyesque sort of way.
I’ve pondered how he might have done it better, considering the task he set for himself, and haven’t thought of any way it could have been done without removing some of the sub-plots, which he’d made essential to the overall plot development. A trap he’s too competent an author to have caught himself in unaware.
Too busy might be how I’d describe the book, but still compelling enough to cause the reader to work hard to struggle through. At least some patient readers.