Gregory Benford/David Brin
Heart of the Comet (1986)
Reviewed: 1995-07-28

The cover blurbs hail it as "better than Dune" and "hard science fiction at its best". Well, it is hardish. But true hard SF? Maybe if you think mentioning "angular momentum" makes a novel hard SF. Personally, I think Heart of the Comet doesn't qualify. The physics looks okay, but for my taste there are too many instances of deux ex machina in the presented biology and computer science. And to be sure, it is not better than Dune either.

Heart of the Comet is about an expedition to Halley's Comet in 2061. The task is not only to explore Halley, but also to settle there, equip it with engines to give the comet a nudge in order to make it settle into a new orbit, ready for harvesting on its next passage through the inner solar system 76 years later. Cryogenics will help the crew to live through the duration of this mammoth project.

Difficulties encountered are the politics back on Earth, where radical environmentalism has become fashionable, politics which carry over to the expedition too, and the fact that it is composed of people Earth is very happy to see leave for various reasons. A ship of misfits, so to speak. The going gets really tough when the colonists encounter what looks like native comet life, both from the political repercussions of the discovery and a very unpolitical struggle for survival.

Heart of the Comet is about the adaptability of the human species, about genetic engineering, symbiosis, and the next step in human evolution. (If you find these aspects of particular interest, you probably want to check out the Transformation Stories List.) The book also touches the subject of artifical intelligence and virtual reality. For the readers interested in social affairs, it shows the tribe as the most natural and still ingrained unit of human organization.

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