Niven, Larry and Matthew Joseph Harrington. The Goliath Stone. New York: Tor Books, 2013. ISBN 978-0-765-33323-0.
This novel is a tremendous hoot which the authors undoubtedly had great fun writing and readers who know what's going on may thoroughly enjoy while others who don't get it may be disappointed. This story, which spans a period from 5 billion years before the present to A.D. 2052 chronicles the expansion of sentient life beyond the Earth and humankind's first encounter with nonhuman beings. Dr. Toby Glyer, pioneer in nanotechnology, arranges with a commercial space launch company to send a technologically opaque payload into space. After launch, it devours the orbital stage which launched it and disappears. Twenty-five years later, a near-Earth asteroid is detected as manoeuvring itself onto what may be a collision course with Earth, and fears spread of Glyer's asteroid retrieval mission, believed to involve nanotechnology, having gone horribly wrong.

Meanwhile, distinctly odd things are happening on Earth: the birth rate is falling dramatically, violent crime is way down while suicides have increased, terrorism seems to have come to an end, and test scores are rising everywhere. Athletes are shattering long-established records with wild abandon, and a disproportionate number of them appear to be American Indians. Glyer and space launch entrepreneur May Wyndham sense that eccentric polymath William Connors, who they last knew as a near-invalid a quarter century earlier, may be behind all of this, and soon find themselves inside Connors' secretive lair.

This is an homage to golden age science fiction where an eccentric and prickly genius decides to remake the world and undertakes to do so without asking permission from anybody. The story bristles with dozens if not hundreds of references to science fiction and fandom, many of which I'm sure I missed. For example, “CNN cut to a feed with Dr. Wade Curtis, self-exiled to Perth when he'd exceeded the federal age limit on health care.” Gentle readers, start your search engines!

If you're looking for “hard” science fiction like Niven's “Known Space”, this is not your book. For a romp through the near future which recalls the Skylark novels of “Doc” Smith, with lots of fannish goodies and humourous repartee among the characters, it's a treat.

October 2013 Permalink