The Anvil of Stars / Forge of God Analysis

Greg Bear

Anvil of Stars

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In this sequel to FORGE OF GOD (in which alien machines that can reproduce themselves annihilate Earth), Hugo and Nebula Award winning author Greg Bear traces the attempts of some of Earth’s survivors to carry out “the Law,” which states that beings who arbitrarily destroy inhabited planets must themselves be destroyed.

The eighty-four human “Wendys” and “Lost Boys” who engage in this quest are adolescents chosen by machines they call “moms.” These machines (which have rescued a portion of Earth’s inhabitants and maintain them in a space vessel called the “Ark,” prior to relocating them on Mars, which they have re-formed to accommodate them) train and support their charges in the name of the “Benefactors,” beings who oversee a galactic amalgam of civilizations dedicated to opposing the “Killers,” beings who have set about to destroy civilizations they can neither abide nor ultimately control.

It is the “Job” of the survivors of these Killers to find and destroy them, less for revenge than in the name of a kind of biblical justice. In ANVIL OF STARS, however, conflict among the killers’ foes threatens their mission. Martin Gordon, the main character, and for a time “Pan” or leader of the group, having lost his lovers William and Theresa in an ill-fated attack on a solar system rife with Killer technology, comes to doubt not only himself but the efficacy of the Job itself. As a result, he finds himself caught in the middle between Hans, his aggressive and heartless successor as Pan, and Rosa Sequoia, a self-styled religious visionary who opposes the Job.

With the help of the “Brothers,” an alien race whose planet, like theirs, has been destroyed, Martin and his fellows discover what seems to be the Killers’ homeworld, the Leviathan solar system. Through a complex series of deceptions on both sides, war is joined; the representatives of the Law win, annihilating their guilty, as well as innocent, opponents, and alienating the Brothers and those among themselves who are nauseated by such carnage.

ANVIL OF STARS, beyond its skillful clarification of exotic science and technology and its epic and suspenseful plot, relies on rich characterization to show that good and evil are not as clear as they seem at first, and that those who evoke and carry out a justice neither subtle nor forgiving can become as monstrous and destructive as their adversaries.

The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

In The Forge of God, sensitive astrophysicist Arthur Gordon and his eight-year-old son, Marty, learn that Jupiters sixth moon has disappeared. Meanwhile, introspective young geologist Edward Shaw discovers a spaceship in Death Valley, California, and finds a miter-snouted, three-eyed alien collapsed in the sand nearby. With the help of young Stella Morgan, Shaw contacts the U.S. Air Force. The Air Force secretly incarcerates the sick alien and everyone who has seen it. Shaw and Morgan begin to fall in love.

Trevor Hicks, a British science-fiction writer and devotee of the search for extraterrestrial life, sniffs out the secret, and the Air Force captures him as well. The president asks Gordon and his friend, Harry Feinman, to study the alien. The alien tells them that the spaceship in Death Valley is a self-replicating, planet-eating machine that destroyed his home planet before he stowed away on it to warn others. Gordon explains that the alien is describing a concept called Von Neumann machines (popularized by Fred Saberhagen in Berserker, 1967)” mindless viruslike machines that seek signs of life, eat any life-bearing planet, and use the material to produce copies of themselves that fly off in different directions to eat more life-bearing planets. An advanced civilization starts the process in order to eliminate potential competitors preemptively.

The alien dies, and an autopsy reveals that it is no more than a robot. Other countries report spaceships with robots who bear peaceful tidings. Confounded, the U.S. government destroys the Death Valley spaceship, but Gordon believes that the enemy is extremely cautious, clever, and cruel. He believes that all the known spaceships are strategic ploys sent to toy with, study, evaluate, and confuse humans while the real planet-eating machines land elsewhere.

World cultures react differently as news of impending doom leaks out....

(The entire section is 792 words.)