- Giants (#5)
- Published by Titan
- First published in 2005
- Interdimensional Adventure
- 402 pages
What if you could communicate with other universes? What if you could cross over into another timeline? Would you be guided by a sense of curiosity? Or would the desire to remake the world overwhelm you . . ?
In a lot of ways, from the style of story they publish through to the glorious cover art of their books, Baen is as American a publisher as they come. They’re a publisher I go to when I’m in search of military SF and space opera (of which I am often in search), from the epic all the way down to the trashy adventure. It’s good stuff, but as a singularly American publisher, Baen books are frightfully hard to get hold of in the UK. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in a branch of Waterstones, and while I could theoretically get them online through the usual channels, most of the Baen books in my library are second-hand purchases from used bookstores and charity shops. All things considered, it’s a cheap but unreliable way of getting my fix of Americana. So I grab at almost any Baen book I see in the wild. You can imagine my surprise when I cracked open this one to find out that the author was British. That little oddity aside, however, this book is as Baen as they come.
This book was published in 2005. That’s only eighteen years ago. That makes it contemporary with John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, and squarely in the careers of British SF legends Peter F. Hamilton and Alastair Reynolds. In Star Wars terms, the New Jedi Order had come to an end, and the galaxy far, far away was tilting into some rather grimdark territory. Star Trek: Enterprise broadcast its finale that year. This is a realm of science fiction I am reasonably well educated in, largely through having lived it myself. Yet if you had told me that Mission to Minerva was written in the nineteen-fifties, I would believe you.
It feels like a much older work. Yes, it concludes a series that crosses decades, but even so, it does not read like a novel of the early twenty-first century. With chapter after chapter of scientists politely discussing science, it feels like something from the pages of Astounding. It’s not just the overall tone, however. I am not particularly well versed in American social habits, but it strikes me that you could transport the book to the sixties, or even earlier, and the character dynamics would not be out of place. There’s the poor woman struggling to write a book, the gruff government scientists, the aliens who treat humanity as rowdy teenagers. If it hadn’t been published in my own lifetime, I’d call it dated. It might just be the only book I’ll ever call predated. Old before it was even conceived.
If you’re looking for a new Baen-style book, then that’s what you’ll find here. It’s not all that remarkable, but it’s far from terrible.
Deeper Dive: A Cautionary Tale in Researching the Author
I knew going in that this was a sequel. A book where I would not know all of the context beforehand, having not read the first volume. This rarely stops me reading a book, so I ploughed on ahead. What I did do was a quick search of how many books were in the series, for my own recordkeeping more than anything else. Clearly, the best way to do this is to look for the bibliography of the author. I typed Hogan’s name into the search bar and clicked. And right there I was greeted by the biographical statement:
‘James Hogan was a British science fiction author and Holocaust denier‘
Well. Great. He’s a maniac. That was my initial reaction. I didn’t dive any deeper into the controversies surrounding the man, because they were not particularly relevant to the book in question. Let me be clear, the Holocaust happened. It was a very, very bad thing. Anyone who says otherwise is clearly up to something. Nevertheless, I can enjoy books by people with wild opinions and insane beliefs, so long as they don’t come through in the text itself.
I read on, but the experience was already tainted. This is a book about rewriting history. How could I not see it as reflective of Hogan’s conspiracy theories? Was there some rallying call in these pages for other nutjobs? Probably not, but the thought niggled at me. I started looking for things that in all likelihood weren’t there. I wasn’t overly thrilled by Mission to Minerva in the first place, but now my reading experience teetered on the brink of disaster. Either I was picking up on Hogan’s beliefs, or I was no longer reading the book as actually written. Either way, the book was tarnished in my mind.
I am a firm advocate of separating artist from art, author from the text. But that’s a whole lot easier when you don’t who you’re separating the work from. The moment you start thinking about an author’s motivation, the book as originally intended is gone. Entwined with the full psyche of a person you do not – and cannot – know. So do yourself a favour. Leave the research until after you’ve finished the book.
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