Gregory Benford
Against Infinity (1983)
Reviewed: 2003-06-28

So you thought Benford could only write about boring scientists? Against Infinity proves unexpectedly different, a novel full of mystique and emotion.

The settlers are working hard on terraforming Ganymede. It's a harsh life, out on the frontier, in a hostile and unforgiving environment. The humans are supported by cyborgized terrestrial animals with amplified intelligence, very different from the utilitarian bio-engineered lifeforms that roam the moon and help to prepare it for an eventual oxygen atmosphere in an unspecified future.

In the beginning Manuel is just a boy, allowed to accompany the workers on one of the rare pruning expeditions that provide some change from the drudgery of daily life, and ostensibly serve to remove mutants from the fragile, ever-changing biosphere. But everybody really hopes to have a chance to hunt the Aleph. When humans reached the Jovian system, they found it littered with ancient, incomprehensible alien artifacts. All dead, except the Aleph. Never the same, but unchanged for maybe a billion years, it keeps boring through Ganymede's ice and rock, without goal, oblivious to the human explorers, impervious to their attempts to stop or examine it, an incomprehensible part of this cold world. Over the years, as Manuel grows up, he encounters and hunts the Aleph many times.

Much of this book is about the feeling of the hunt, the wilderness of the barren, yet rich landscape, and the pioneering spirit. There is a poetic quality to Benford's evocation of an alien world.

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