Big Dumb Object, but without the Dumb, as the Object is actually load-bearing and has context and faux-science attached to it. Sadly not great for me: The old sci-fi disease of being better at conjuring up scenarios than at having characters interact. The best indicator is that while the Big Dumb Object wasn’t dumb, the protagonist (genius field-medalist scientist) had all the feeling and impact of a prop with a hand-written “genius btw” sign attached.
That sounds a bit harsh: The book did start out pretty cool, but then just dropped off and failed to convince. To be fair, there were long stretches where the characters don’t interact and just think, and those worked surprisingly well! But especially the second half had way, way too many ideas and zero coherence, and then descended into science babble + “oops, we need an ending”.
Cool things: The fact they had procedures to take people through the shock-and-awe they experienced when seeing the object the first time. The handling of crew relationships. Got smartphones about right.
Stupid things: the Russians (good god, the potato). The futurist alien society – there were enough cool ideas in there to fill three books, and none of them got to shine. The ending. The sex.
Side note 1: It was pretty hard to judge how old the book was: the mood is very “processing the height of the cold wars”, but the characters (and particularly the treatment of women) felt modern. I only looked up when it was written halfway through, and was a bit surprised.
Side note 2: this was the first book I read for my now-beloved book club! And the discussion was a lot of fun – as always, more interesting when only some people like the book.
This book is part of the 2022 Backlog Incident.
Beware: full spoilers! Also probably incomplete and possibly incomprehensible.
Rock arrives, hollowed out. Teams figure out that it has to come from future humans (entered 1200 years ago and left 500 years ago). Oh, and also, it never ends. Protagonist (very young field-medalist) goes up and has to figure out wtf is going on, while Earth descends into war (which people on the rock obviously know about and angst about), and the Russians try to take over the rock. They call it “The Potato”, god help us.
Eventually, a small heroic group escapes the war and stuff, and they make their way to hyper futuristic humans, very non-standard body plans and virtual living. They too live in a war, and travel down the endless corridor, with portals to every conceivable time and place opened (and to be opened) by a priest-like engineer group.
In the end, the people in the rock rebuild human civilization, painstakingly, while Patricia, the protagonist, ends up in parallel-world Ancient Egypt, and spends all her life searching for a way home.