The Genesis Machine Critical Essays

James P. Hogan


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The starting point for the physics in The Genesis Machine is the long-sought unified field theory, a set of equations that would combine the strong and weak nuclear forces, gravity, and electromagnetic force. James Hogan builds upon this projected breakthrough, together with the already-proposed Hawking Effect, which identifies a special kind of radiation emanating from the area surrounding black holes. An almost unlimited source of energy is thereby deemed available in another dimension. Clifford discovers this dimension, identified as k-space, and taps it. The science in this novel is solid and exciting.

The plot is also well structured. Although the dramatic action is interrupted frequently by long passages of explanation, events develop, one out of the other, in a logically satisfying progression. They lead to a vision at the end of the book of a solution to the nuclear arms race. Given all the problems that beset humanity in this age, to imagine any positive future is difficult. To imagine and present one in which peace truly prevails is no small accomplishment.

Other literary elements in The Genesis Machine are not so well handled. The characters are hardly more than cardboard cutouts used to demonstrate scientific and political concepts. They all sound the same, with the possible exception of Professor Zimmermann. Their interaction lacks any real depth of adult emotion. Clifford’s wife, even though she is a medical doctor and an accomplished person in her own right, is trapped within the stereotype of the supportive wife. Only for one scene, in the closing pages, does she emerge from complete predictability. She seems to flirt for a moment with Aubrey Philipsz, simultaneously flirting with becoming a genuinely three-dimensional character.

Hogan’s style is clumsy in many places. He seems to have little ear for musical elements in his use of the English language, and his prose is peppered with clichés. Science fiction has a long tradition as a literature of ideas, if not of flowery and poetic language, and The Genesis Machine is packed with those. This novel is a first-rate example of contemporary, hard science fiction.