In the ocean of the night

Behind this poetic title it’s the hard science-fiction novel by Gregory Benford. Published in 1977, this is still one of those books in which 1999 seemed a distant future with many technological, social, and cultural transformations.

The beginning is hooking: an asteroid aproaching Earth turns out to be an old trace of the existence of extraterrestrial inteligence. However, its destruction is neccesary to preserve our planet. The consecuences of both facts should mark the life of Nigel Walmsley, the astronaute in charge of the mission. But Benford turns the situation in anecdote, just the beginning of a series of encounters, events and misteries, always around Walmsley.

As it should be with good science-fiction, through it many aspects about the future society are shown to the reader: the ecological and energetic problems, how personal relationships, culture and religion are… This last one has a great relevance along the story and the author expresses several interesting questions: if life in other planets is eventually confirmed, would our religions survive as we know them? Would there be new ones? How would they be? How much power would they get and how would they use it?

Unlike ‘The mote in God’s eye’, this time the prose doesn’t get lost in technological verbosity, and it dedicates much more space to anthropological and sociological subjects. And few times it’s through long and precise descriptions; more often, it’s just a sentence or a word which doesn’t deserve more atention but that it’s enough to build the whole. In this aspect, Bendford’s work is praiseworthy.

However, this lack of deepness sometimes pass on the main plot. The protagonist goes through events and situationes that may have resulted in a whole novel on their own, but Benford leaves them very quickly, just to set a new ones. And the repercussion of one over the next is never as important as expected. On the other hand, the common plot points with ‘2001, a space odissey’ (S. Kubrick), released nine years before, weakens the whole work.

Maybe because the author had in mind a whole cycle of novels, from which this is its first chapter, everything is sketched and nothing is solved. ‘In the ocean of the night’ brings up very interesting questions, and sets a society that in 1977 may seem very far but nowadays is not, and walks on tiptoe over it all. You can not ask science-fiction for answers, for it is not its function, but you should ask a good book for consistency. Bendford doesn’t fail in the first, but does in the second.

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