In the Ocean of Night/Across the Sea of Suns Critical Essays

Gregory Benford


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

These two novels form the first part of Gregory Benford’s exploration of the central theme of the novels, the idea, first suggested by John von Neumann, that self-perpetuating machine intelligence is the ultimate evolutionary fate of organic life, if not its successor and conqueror. Benford returned to this idea in the Great Sky River trilogy, consisting of Great Sky River (1987), Tides of Light (1989), and Furious Gulf (1994). In these later novels, the focus is on the eventual fate of humanity at the galactic center, at a time far removed from the events of In the Ocean of Night and Across the Sea of Suns.

Benford treats von Neumann’s ideas with sincerity and honest scrutiny, a position that has earned all these novels a great deal of critical as well as fan-based acclaim. His treatment of humanitys relationship to what seems to be an inevitable conflict between organic and artificial life is an example of the best of hard science fiction, science fiction with sound scientific arguments as its basis. Of particular note is the juxtaposition of Walmsley and Snark and their methods of accumulating information, and the comparison between the inorganic Watchers and the organic Swarmers as methods of controlling and destroying sentient organic life. Given the basic premise that artificial machine intelligence will see itself in direct conflict with its organic creators, both these ideas present...

(The entire section is 417 words.)