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Cosm
Gregory Benford
Avon EOS Books, 344 pages

Cosm
Gregory Benford
Gregory Benford is a physicist and astronomer at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of a series of hard SF novels, beginning with In the Ocean of Night (1978) and following quickly with works such as Timescape (1980) and the popular Galactic Center series, including Across the Sea of Suns, Great Sky River (1987), Tides of Light (1989) and Furious Gulf (1994). A recent work is Foundation's Fear, an authorized continuation of Asimov's Foundation series.

Gregory Benford Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Stephen M. Davis

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Cosm is based on an entirely plausible idea from theoretical physics. The basic theory, as I understand it, is that it is possible an area of "false vacuum" could be created in our "true vacuum" universe, and that this "false vacuum" would be a universe unto itself, connected to this universe by a "neck" of negative energy density.

In Dr. Benford's book, there is also a hard, black sphere on our end of things that acts as a kind of window to the newly created universe. The idea is interesting and Dr. Benford weaves a taut thriller around it.

Dr. Alicia Butterworth, a black physicist from the University of California, Irvine, is the main character in the novel, accidentally creating this "daughter" universe in an ion collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island.

Rather than do what most of the rest of us would do -- alert the folks at Brookhaven to this startling discovery -- Butterworth spirits her sphere back to UCI, where she spends her days poking and prodding, fending off the administration and lying to the staff at Brookhaven about the accident that led to the formation of the cosm.

And this is really where I have a difficult time with the novel; it's true that the author has a fine style and that the novel is structured well, but the reader begins to get the distinct impression that no one in Dr. Benford's world is capable of operating with integrity or honor. The reader may also come away with the firm conviction that Gregory Benford dislikes just about everybody.

A partial listing of Dr. Benford's dislikes would include all administrators, who are power-conscious, hypocritical weasels; religious figures, who are either crack-pots or publicity hounds; singles' bars; men in singles' bars; affirmative action; the media; voice mail; committee meetings; Maya Angelou; and much of California, with the possible exception of Laguna Beach.

In Cosm's favor, the author does an excellent job of having his scientists sound like scientists, except where it is absolutely necessary for someone to ask an impossibly stupid question to give the rest of us some needed information.

Dr. Max Jalon, a theoretical physicist from Caltech, is really the only decent person in the book, and even he is only separated from the nut-jobs and whackos by his having established tenure.

Late in the book, Max has the following conversation with Alicia:

'Look, there are different kinds of scientific interest: the known, the unknown, and the flat-out unknowable. This idea falls in the unknowable. It's plausible, but how can we check it? Probably we can't. But we can still ask questions, invent explanations about what started it all.'
'Then some experimenter in a lab...'
'Made us. Yes.' He said it very mildly.
'Just like me.'
'Except that experimenter had tentacles, yes.'
Apparently Max Jalon -- and by inference Gregory Benford? -- finds it easier to believe we were made by intelligent shell-fish than by an omniscient God.

Again, there is a great deal to enjoy about Cosm, but the reader should come to the novel understanding that the author is carrying a certain amount of baggage around with him, and that he isn't particularly worried about how many people get crushed by his luggage-dolly.

Copyright © 1998 by Stephen M. Davis

Steve is faculty member in the English department at Piedmont Technical College in Greenwood, S.C. He holds a master's in English Literature from Clemson University. He was voted by his high school class as Most Likely to Become a Young Curmudgeon.


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