Monday, July 16, 2007

Far-Seer by Robert J. Sawyer (1992)

Paperback cover blurb

THE FACE OF GOD

...is what every young saurian learns to call the immense, glowing object which fills the night sky on the far side of the world. Young Afsan is privileged, called to the distant Capital City to apprentice with Saleed the court astrologer. But when the time comes for Afsan to make his coming-of-age pilgrimage, to gaze upon the Face of God, his world is changed forever -- for what he sees will test his faith... and may save his world from disaster.

My thoughts

Far-Seer is essentially the story of a dinosaurian Galileo Galilei, being the first book in Robert J. Sawyer's Quintaglio Ascension, a trilogy of novels. It is set on a planet where dinosaurs continued to evolve and thrive, although how they got there isn't revealed until the second book of the series. Afsan, a young astrologer-in-training, makes a religious trip to the other side of the world, where a giant celestial object hangs in a fixed position in the sky. Afsan's people believe it is their god, keeping constant watch over them. The young dinosaur, however, comes to suspect that is not the case, but his theories will not be greeted warmly by the church.

Far-Seer left me with mixed emotions. There are ideas in it I like, such as the cosmology of Afsan's world. It is very different from our own and watching Afsan figure it out makes for some of the best reading in the book. The Quintaglio also have some strange quirks, such as their inability to stand within a few feet of each other without launching into a murderous rage. That said, the species feels rather generic as far as aliens go. There is nothing to peg them as dinosaurs other than that they have tails and lay eggs -- you could plug in any other aliens and nothing would need to be rewritten to accommodate them. The biology of the Quintaglio's world isn't fleshed out any great detail, so besides a few cameos, we don't get to see what the rest of the Mesozoic world evolved into. And the story about science vs. religion seemed rather "been there, done that." Then again, given the current debates about stem-cell research and other issues, maybe it is important for authors like Sawyer to keep championing science.

The book probably won't satisfy anyone diving into it to read about dinosaurs. (The second novel of the trilogy, Fossil Hunter, does a better job in that regard.) It also probably won't please any "hard sci-fi" fans looking for gee-whiz gadgetry, since the Quintaglio world is at about the same technological level as Renaissance Europe. Fans of old-fashioned science fiction may like it, although the writing doesn't compare to anything Issac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke were putting out in their heyday. Far-Seer isn't awful, it's just not particularly memorable.

Trivia
  • Each book in the Quintaglio Ascension tells the story of the dinosaurian counterpart of a famous scientist on Earth. Galileo Galilei is the model for the protagonist in Far-Seer. Charles Darwin is covered in Fossil Hunter. Sigmund Freud is the main subject of Foreigner.
  • The Quintaglio are the evolved descendents of a type of tyrannosaur named Nanotyrannus. Most dinosaur paleontologists don't consider Nanotyrannus a valid species, instead believing its fossil remains to be that of a juvenile T. rex. Here is a link about the debate, although it is admittedly a little dated.

Reviews

1 comment:

psikeyhackr said...

The Quintaglio Trilogy is a recapitulation of three major culture changing ideas. It is not just a story. Afsan is a Galileo/Newton analog. The story introduces the concept of tidal forces destroying moons, so if by Hard-SF one means real physics then it qualifies. Gadgets that don't conform to real physics aren't hard SF.

Fossil Hunter introduces a dinosaur Darwin and Foreigner a Freud. The Quintaglio Trilogy is more intellectually interesting than most of the silly SF stories today.