Charles Pellegrino/George Zebrowski
The Killing Star (1995)
In 2076 A.D., humanity has started spreading into the solar system. There are bases and space habitats on and near several planets, moons, asteroids, and comets. With the breakthrough technology of self-replicating robots, humanity wields a powerful tool for large scale engineering, allowing Earth herself to slowly recover from the damage done in previous decades. Humanity has found tentative peace, and antimatter-powered Valkyrie rockets, unarmed explorers, are sent on first expeditions to nearby stars.
When the relativistic bombs strike, they eradicate every inhabited surface in the solar system. With a single blow the surface of Earth is sterilized. The followup ships of the Intruders start cleaning out the solar system, destroying returning Valkyries and any habitat they can find. The remaining patches of humanity fight a desperate, losing struggle, running on the lowest power output possible to avoid detection, with no contact to other survivers, trying to hide in unlikely places or to entirely escape Sunspace in order to preserve the species.
In recent years it has become fashionable to assert that any species advanced enough for making physical contact over interstellar distances will have a peaceful attitude towards other beings. A bold assumption, considering that we know nothing about any extraterrestrial species. What can we expect? Paraphrased from the book:
Add to this the facts of relativistic bombardment. A missile approaching at a speed close to that of light is hard to detect, leaves very little time to react, is next to impossible to intercept, and is utterly devastating on impact. In short, once a civilization has achieved the technological level necessary for relativistic bombardment it can erase a neighboring civilization in a single strike. The beginning of the books depicts just such an attack on our solar system. The victims will not just suffer enormous losses as in your run-of-the-mill disaster novel, they will in all likelihood be exterminated. No species can accept the risk of its utter destruction. Do you know that your neighbor is friendly? If you are mistaken, you will go extinct. The only way to be sure is to lead the first strike. And the neighboring civilization will know this, too, once it has reached a sufficiently advanced stage.
The Killing Star is one of the most terrifying books I have read in a long time. It paints a frightening picture of civilizations exterminating their interstellar neighbors, not from malice, but simply because it is the most logical action. A universe, where successful genocide is the norm, the "right" way. The novel illustrates its premise in frightening ways.
Let's turn to some less disturbing aspects of this book. It is full of ideas, not necessarily new ones, but intriguing and quite speculative ones. Some of the concepts that shape the background of this future Earth, like the cloning of dead creatures of all kinds and ages, including humans, would invite further investigation. Some of the technology presented is pure fantasy. Knowing more about computers than the average reader, I am distinctly unhappy with the Ceres computer incident. The novel is full of self-indulgence. Pellegrino himself appears quite prominently in the guise of a certain Robert Tuna. There is also some gratuitous material on, of all, the R.M.S. Titanic, which seems to be one of Pellegrino's personal pet themes. There are even references to the events around the attempt to raise the wreck in Arthur C. Clarke's The Ghost From the Grand Banks. RIP. References to contemporary science fiction authors abound. The humorous breaks are of varying success. While I found the name of the pet sauron hilarious, the role of a certain TV show bordered on the silly.
Why haven't we yet detected any sign of extraterrestrial life? The Killing Star provides a chilling answer. Food for thought.
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