The author Greg Bear, who recently passed away, has been on my radar for many years, but for some reason I can’t explain, I’ve never read any of his stories. Of course, I felt obligated to honor his memory by picking up one of his highly-regarded novels, The Forge of God. While it didn’t win any awards, it was nominated for Hugo, Locus, and Nebula awards. In my opinion, recognition is almost as good as winning. Almost.
The basic premise of the story is that an alien craft is discovered in the desert in the United States. A single dying alien conveys a message that the Earth is going to be destroyed soon by an alien entity that will consume it. At the same time, another alien craft is discovered in an Australian desert. The robot aliens here claim they’ve come to share knowledge and help the human race.
A group of Americans, brought together by fate and the President of the United States, begin to investigate and soon discover the first alien was correct and the others were trying to deceive the human race. It then becomes apparent that something must be done to try and stop the unknown alien entity before it’s too late.
This summary doesn’t do the story justice. It’s far more complex and layered than this, but you get the gist.
There’s a lot to like about this novel. First, Bear did a great job of starting the story with a slight sense of dread, and over the course of several hundred pages, ramps it up notch by notch. This isn’t a story with a happy ending, but it’s also not completely dark.
The characters are also nuanced and complex. There’s history between several of them, things from the past that they allude to in conversations and memories, and the relationships are real. There’s love, jealousy, hope, and fear, but none of that overshadows the plot. And no one has plot armor here. Not to give away anything important, but the characters have real problems, relationship problems, health problems, and they deal with self-doubt. It made the story feel grounded in reality.
Of course, it’s not a perfect story. While it was published in the late 1980s, the story still suffers from some of those old-school science fiction tropes. The lead characters are all white males. The female characters are all housewives and fill supporting roles. There are only two African-American characters, a young man and a middle-aged woman. The young man, while a secondary character, does play a crucial role. The woman, however, only makes a brief appearance and only has a couple of lines.
The tropes don’t necessarily detract from the story. It was only toward the end of the book that I felt there were some missed opportunities to add more variety to the cast. I mean, there were a lot of Black scientists and scientific researchers in the 1980s and 90s (the story actually takes place in 1997).
I think The Anvil of God overall is a solid story with a satisfying ending (and yes, there is a sequel). I felt it was realistic, both in how things play out and how people react. There’s religious fervor, bad decisions, realistic science, and an interesting look at human nature overall. How would we all react if we knew the planet was going to be destroyed in a few days? It’s a valid question and the book gave me a lot to think about.
It’s a shame Greg Bear has left this plane, but at least he left behind a large library of novels and stories for us to read. I recommend The Anvil of God to any science fiction fans out there.