Artifact Review and Opinion


Gregory Benford
Orbit paperback £6.99

review by Peter Schilling

Like Greg Bear's intriguing Cosm, this is another one of those tales of a scientific discovery that seems at first like it really ought to change the world, but doesn't. It causes ripples in the big pond, a few inadvertent deaths (of minor characters), and it makes or breaks the professional careers and affects the private lives of its central characters but, even with all that going on, this dramatic and exciting, yet nonetheless straightforward narrative tends - perhaps for the sake of authorial expediency - to shy away from confronting paradigm shifts or political upheaval.
   Claire's a dedicated archaeologist whose feminist principles set her against the bullying and ambitious soldier-scientist in control of the Greek dig site where she has found a strange object. Unearthed from a hidden chamber in an ancient tomb, Claire's discovery turns out to be of more interest to physicists studying matter in bizarre quantum states, than shifters of dust and collectors of broken pots.
   There are hints of a hard-SF threat to the planet, of course. Partly conjured up by various hurriedly described events involving gravitationally attractive particles of exotic matter burrowing, like unstoppable nuclear moles, through the Earth's deep crust, and partly the result of misunderstandings between various scientific groups vying for control of experiments on the enigmatic artifact of the title, and the disinformation spread by US government intervention in Mediterranean cultural affairs. What remains, after the mind-boggling physics problems have all been solved (or at least prevented from being used as a weapon of mass destruction) and the brouhaha of international diplomacy and US sabre-rattling subsides, is simply another of those interminable modern American romances.

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