Literary Techniques

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 291

The literary technique for which Gregory Benford is both most widely praised and criticized is an outcome of his desire to portray alien and machine intelligences — beings that do not think, and hence are unlikely to communicate — in ways which are similar to the practice of human beings....

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The literary technique for which Gregory Benford is both most widely praised and criticized is an outcome of his desire to portray alien and machine intelligences — beings that do not think, and hence are unlikely to communicate — in ways which are similar to the practice of human beings. In order to convey a sense of alien language, Benford resorts to a variety of typographical tricks, using boldface, Italics, indentation, underlining, and unconventional punctuation. Occasionally he arranges his language on the page in a manner more suggestive of poetry than of traditional prose. Each nonhuman intelligence has its own unique typography. For example, when the Mantis, an AI sent in pursuit of the Family Bishop, communicates with the higher intelligences which govern its mechanical civilization, speaking through the manipulation of magnetic field lines, Benford renders the dialog in the following manner:

I/You have explored a huge array of vaults and spaces, I >A< I. Yet you find nothing!

I have discovered a wealth of primate culture!

That was not your task, I >A< I.

How well I know. Our own ancient data imply that there are special, message-bearing primates. I have sought them. But they are difficult to separate from the hordes of primates here.

There are so many? Hiding from us?

Similarly, when Toby and Quath tease each other, the dialog looks like this:

Hello,joke-face Quath'jutt'kkal'thon...."

"Must've caught them from your rotten carcass. What's that about a mountain?"

"Some mountain. More like a stink-hole, I'd say. And you're the one who looks like a giant maggot."

Benford utilizes still other typographical tricks to render the interior language of the various personalities that Toby and other members of the Family Bishop carry implanted in their minds.

Social Concerns

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 497

Furious Gulf is the third novel in a series which began with Great Sky River (1987) and continued in Tides of Light. Like those novels, it is set in the same universe as Benford's In the Ocean of Night and Across the Sea of Suns. (1984). (Please see separate entries on Great Sky River and In the Ocean of Night.) A fourth novel in the series, Sailing Bright Eternity, appeared in 1995. All six books have been packaged by the publisher as the Galactic Center novels.

To a great extent, the major social concerns and themes of Furious Gulf are identical to those of Great Sky River — humanity's increasing ability to make radical changes in the human body, the difficulties of understanding both alien and machine intelligences, the dangers of human hubris. To this mix, however, Furious Gulf adds new concerns of its own. The grandeur of the physical universe is an implicit theme in most of Benford's work, but it takes center stage in this novel. As the starship Argo, crewed by the tattered remains of humanity that are the Family Bishop, drives toward the center of our galaxy in a desperate attempt to escape the pursuing Mech starships, Benford's description of the closely-packed suns that dominate that region of space, and of the gigantic black hole at the exact center of it all, are awe inspiring, particularly when one realizes that Benford is writing out of his own firsthand knowledge of contemporary astrophysics.

Equally compelling, and on a more human scale, is the theme of courage in the face of the unknown. The Argo is failing, its gardens dying, its equipment beginning to breakdown. To turn back seems impossible because the Mech forces are still behind them, still eager to wipe them out, yet to go forward into the hellish vortex that is the center of the galaxy is too terrifying for many members of the Family Bishop to contemplate. As crew members begin to challenge their Captain's decision to continue toward the galaxy's center, Furious Gulf begins to remind the reader of comparable sections of Melville's Moby Dick (1851), or perhaps some dimly remembered retelling of the voyages of Christopher Columbus.

Less believable than the depiction of the Argo's approach to the galactic core, perhaps, but almost as effective as a scientific conceit, is Benford's description of the 'esty,' a bizarre and marvelous piece of stabilized space-time which lies floating on the very edge of the black hole at the center of the galaxy and which has physical laws that differ radically from those of the rest of the universe. The amazing nature of the esty also allows Benford to return to yet another of his favorite themes (see the entries for Timescape and In the Ocean of Night), the idiocy of government bureaucracy. Although they live surrounded by the most incredible habitat in the universe, the long-time inhabitants of the esty have constructed a day-to-day existence for themselves which seems both infuriatingly restrictive and unbearably humdrum.

Literary Precedents

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 190

Benford's literary precedents for the discussion of artificial intelligence and the possibility of a conflict between humanity and its creations are described in the entry for Great Sky River. A number of other science-fiction writers have attempted to portray what it would be like to interact with a black hole or other similar stellar object, among the best known being Larry Niven's "Neutron Star" (1966), Poul Anderson's "Kyrie" (1968), Frederik Pohl's Gateway (1977) and Beyond the Blue Event Horizon (1980), and Roger MacBride Allen's The Ring of Charon (1991). A comparably spectacular description of interstellar events, in this case the eventual collapse of the entire universe, can be found in Poul Anderson's Tau Zero (1970). An extremely crude and frankly allegorical presentation of travel into a black hole can be seen in the Walt Disney motion picture The Black Hole (1979).

A number of writers have also attempted to describe what life would be like in an environment like the esty, where the physical laws are radically different from those of our universe. Perhaps the most successful such have been John Stith's Redshift Rendezvous (1990), Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson's The Singers of Time (1991), and Stephen Baxter's Raft (1991).

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