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Lightpaths
Howard V. Hendrix
Ace Books, 352 pages

Lightpaths
Howard V. Hendrix
Howard V. Hendrix has a BS in biology, and an MA and Ph.D. in English Literature. He has taught college-level English for over 20 years. His short fiction began appearing in 1986. He is the author of such novels Lightpaths, Standing Wave, and Better Angels.

Howard V. Hendrix Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

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Howard V. Hendrix writes HARD science fiction. Hell, you could drive nails with Lightpaths, a novel crammed with information on space habitats, artificial intelligence, molecular biology, Utopian fiction, mycology and a dozen other topics.

This is no plot-driven or character-driven novel -- this is a data-driven novel in which the characters exist in order to have lengthy fact-filled conversations with each other, and to muse pensively about history, science, ethics, and the fate of planet Earth.

Half way into the book, having noticed that no actual events were taking place, I began collecting the author's most egregious excuses to dump information on his readers. My favourite: an eminent founder of the colony decides to visit the agricultural production area incognito (in dark glasses and a sun hat) in order to find out if colony members are friendly and helpful to newcomers. She gets a six-page tour of food production on a space station. (Runner-up: a weary character goes home and turns on the TV. A documentary on the history of space stations just happens to be on. And on.)

One of the things which made this book so frustrating is that Hendrix is full of provocative concepts, but he seems utterly unable to condense them, and he lectures his readers rather than using the story and characters to make his points. He also sketches out characters with interesting potential and then makes no good use of them.

The plot? Oh, right. It starts moving around page 250. An artificial intelligence is taking over the habitat's computer network in the pursuit of mysterious goals of its own. And Roger Cortland is trying to bioengineer a pheremone to suppress human reproduction, and release it secretly on Earth. Both are good ideas, but many plot details fall apart on examination, and characters' reactions sometimes verge on the ridiculous.

Lightpaths reads like a distillation of late night conversations at university parties. I'm not sorry I read the book, but I do wish Hendrix would either find himself a really good editor or collaborate with a strong story-teller.

Copyright © 2001 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at http://www.donna-mcmahon.com/.


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