Anvil of Stars by Greg Bear (1992)


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Dec 8, 2007
Somewhere near Jupiter

This is the sequel to Bear's Forge of God though its quite feasible to read each as a standalone-they bear very little relation to each other!

Basically this is a space opera kind of story, very different to the Earth-based story of Forge, where the descendants of the first book are set on a long voyage to-well I can't give the details without giving spoilers to the first book!
At times it was tedious, longwinded and the characters I found really annoying. Imagine being stuck on a ship filled with teenagers! Think Lord of the Flies set in space!
But I plodded through the near-500 page tome and in the end I found I was glad I persisted-it had a satisfying conclusion. In the middle of the book Bear suddenly breaks out his Hard SF alter ego, dealing with time/space dilation and quantum mechanics, BUT its not intrusive or hard to read-it doesnt spoil the flow of the book if you were enjoying the voyage.

Not as immediately enjoyable as Forge but by no means bad
I read this one first as someone had left it at work. I too struggled, but enjoyed it a lot. I did read somewhere that Bear planned to return to this story for a trilogy, but that didn't materialise. Shame. .
I did read somewhere that Bear planned to return to this story for a trilogy, but that didn't materialise. Shame. .
Hmm it seems thats happened before with Bear. He wrote a fantasy book in the 80s that I loved ( Infinity Concerto ). He produced a sequel, the Serpent Mage but never went back to it. Those two are collected in an Omnibus tho.
This is one of my favorite Greg Beat books. I couldn't get into the first one though (I read this one first too). I thought the battle scenes were incredibly well done, and I looked the idea of the Benefactors distrust of their little monkey-children wards.
Hello all.

Just joined up, here at the Chronicles forum. I happened to see this thread/topic.

Greg Bear's "The Forge of God" and "Anvil of Stars" are two of my all-time favorite science fiction novels. I do have a soft spot for good Apocalyptic sci-fi, and Bear's chilling duology, which posits one possible solution to the famous Fermi Paradox, is both sublime and epic (IMHO).

My quick review of The Forge of God and Anvil of Stars (WARNING -- CONTAINS SPOILERS):

Forge of God:

The "Forge of God" is the ultimate First Contact / End of the Earth novel, IMHO. The Earth is attacked by self-replicating killer probes (Von Neumann machines). We have been targeted due to the innocent radiation (radio, microwave transmissions) of our technological society, escaping into space. We are like "baby birds chirping in a hostile forest, calling down the wolves". This metaphor, by Bear, should give pause to anyone who might think that boldly announcing ourselves to the local stellar neighborhood (through active transmissions) is a wise course of action. Bear's speculative argument is rather simple: It is a jungle out there!

Intelligent, high tech civilizations may act selfishly, and some may seek to eliminate competition, rather than seek peaceful co-existence. Furthermore, such hostile civilizations might even embark upon a campaign of "preemptive strikes", in order to clear the space of any potential, future competitors/adversaries.

The novel deals with the impending destruction of the Earth, as depicted from the viewpoints of various characters.

The technology that the Killers use is so far beyond our capability, that there is literally nothing we can do, except to sit and wait for the "ticking time bomb" to go off. The Killer civilization has sent out waves of self-replicating, destructive killer probes, and Earth has been targeted due to our innocent radio emissions.

The "Forge of God" deals with the events in which humanity is first made aware of the presence of such an inimical force, and with growing realization, the implacable nature of the enemy as well as the method by which the Killers will destroy Earth.

However, before the Earth is destroyed, the Killers are themselves attacked by the "Benefactors", which is an alliance of civilizations that hunt down and destroy destructive self-replicating probes, as well as the civilizations responsible for their manufacture and deployment. "That is how the balance is kept".

In Earth's case, the Benefactors arrived too late to prevent the delivery of the Killers weapons into the Earth's core...but they are able to fight off the remaining Killer probes. There is just time enough to save a sample of humanity in huge space "arcs". Also saved, is as substantial portion of Humanity's recorded cultural history and literature (e.g. complete digital archive of the Library of Congress), as well as a significant collection of Earth's biodiversity (via DNA samples), taken by miniature Benefactor robots that are seeded across the Earth, prior to destruction.

There are so many elements in this novel that are truly original. For instance, the Killers send two emissary missions to Earth. One lands in the Southwestern USA, and the other in Australia. The two emissary's give conflicting information to each government. The Americans are basically told that the Earth is doomed. Conversely, the Aussies are told that they come in peace, and wish to help humans join a greater interstellar federation...while promising advanced technology, medical and scientific breakthroughs. All of this is deception, and the Killers are simply studying our behavior and reaction to incredible stress.

The way the Benefactors (the good guys) recruit a large group of humans to collect our society's cultural and historical records is really handled well.

And of course, the ultimate mode and destruction of the Earth is depicted in horrific, gripping detail.

Anvil of Stars:

After the destruction of the Earth, the Benefactors explain "the Law" to the small population of humans which have been saved. "The Law" requires the destruction of all intelligences responsible for, or associated with the manufacture of self-replicating and destructive devices. If there are survivors from an attack by Killer probes (such as in the case with Earth), the Law requires a small select group of young adults to crew a "Ship of the Law", provided by the Benefactors. The Ship of the Law and her crew are tasked with hunting down the Killer civilization that destroyed Earth. If and when the suspected civilization is finally located, the human crew must pass judgement and, if determined guilty, carry out of "the Law".

The concept is simple, but the crew of the Ship of the Law quickly realize that their mission is fraught with complex and perilous difficulties ...both psychological and practical.

The psychological/ethical/moral problems can be summed up thusly; "are the sins of the fathers visited on their children"?

A huge span of time has elapsed since the Killers first sent out their probes. Perhaps the civilization that turned "killer" has changed, evolved, or no longer inhabits the target star system. Or, perhaps some of the "guilty" are still there, but they are hiding amongst other intelligent races, which had nothing to do with the manufacture of the killer probes. Does "the Law" require the destruction of innocents, in order to bring the true Killers to justice?

From a practical standpoint, the Ship of the Law's mission is perilous. All high tech, civilizations have defenses. In a forest full of wolves, an innocent civilization may mistake the Ship of the Law as a "killer". In any event, it is possible that the Killer civilization may be so far advanced that the incredible power of the Ship of the Law would be insignificant.

Anvil of Stars deals with all of these complexities, and more. Also, I have never seen the possibilities, strategies and mechanics of interstellar warfare so carefully thought out and treated. A few important tactics, which continuously weave through the story, are deception, concealment, as well as silence.

Ultimately, the grand theme that permeates this book is a rumination on vengeance...
What shall be the price of victory, if the cost is your very soul?

Great stuff.