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Gregory Benford
Avon EOS Books, 416 pages

A review by Wayne MacLaurin

Q What do you get if you cross a James Bond movie with an Indiana Jones movie?

A A Gregory Benford novel.

That seems to be a pretty accurate description of the pace and theme of Artifact. It's an engaging tale that revolves around the discovery of a mysterious ancient object discovered during an archaeological dig in Greece. Political turmoil in Greece complicates things and Claire, our intrepid archaeologist, finds herself playing James Bond, dodging the Greek army, scuba diving in the Mediterranean and, with the help of a Texan mathematician, smuggling an apocalyptic doomsday device into the US.

Throw in some advanced physics to show the nature of the ancient object and the plot takes a turn towards SF. But, not to fear, more shadowy secret agent stuff happens and our protagonists (now wanted for international ancient artifact smuggling) are dragged back into the world of international espionage.

As bizarre as that description might sound, it works. Artifact skillfully blends physics and archeology with a fast-paced plot worthy of any blockbuster action flick. The only drawback is that the characterization tends to get lost in the adventure as Benford draws on a number of stereotypical character types. It doesn't take much away from the book; it just doesn't add much. The plot and the action take centre stage and the result is a great read.

Originally published in 1985, Benford updated a few elements, for the Avon/EOS paperback, to account for the changes in the social/political make-up of Europe since that time. The changes, however, are not significant to the novel.

Gregory Benford is a full-time working scientist and is kind enough to include a technical afterword that explains a little of the science used in the novel. For us non-PhD-physicists -- in other words, most of us -- it's a help if that sort of thing interests you. For those readers who are more interested in the archeology, Benford also throws in some really interesting theory about classic Greek myths. All in all, Artifact has something for just about everyone.

Copyright © 1998 by Wayne MacLaurin

Wayne MacLaurin is a regular SF Site reviewer. More of his opinions are available on our Book Reviews pages.

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 Cosm.

Gregory Benford Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Cosm
SF Site Review: Foundation's Fear

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