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REVIEW: The Sunborn by Gregory Benford

REVIEW SUMMARY: Gregory Benford’s follow-on to The Martian Race about life on the edge of the solar system is innovative and intriguing. There are lots of good ideas here, but the pacing was a little slow for me.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A pair of scientists have been living on and researching Mars for the last couple of decades when they suddenly discover the algae-like moss they have been studying on the planet might have more to it. Before they can study it further, they are ordered out to the edge of the solar system – to Pluto – where another set of scientists have found something truly amazing.

PROS: Very interesting sci-fi ideas about life at extremely low temperatures, includes facts based on the very latest science available in biology and planetology, characters were very interesting and well managed.
CONS: Overall story pacing was a little odd, with some parts advancing rapidly and many parts dragging. Ending felt rushed.
BOTTOM LINE: Benford is a scientist and it shows in his writing. I’d recommend this book for the ideas alone, but the characters he creates makes the really worth the time. I just felt the overall progression could have been sped up a bit.

Have you ever read a book, think you’ve figured out what it is about, then suddenly find the book is about something else? That’s The Sunborn. Personally I loved it and how the author managed to tie together the seemingly completely disjoint areas of the book.

The book starts off on Mars and goes into quite a bit of depth about the scientists studying there and the experiences they have. But then, we’re taken off to Pluto and a very different direction. And finally, we find ourselves in the Oort cloud with a story that contains the very best of Benford’s sci-fi ideas and finally manages to wrap up the story from the inner solor system. All told, it was very well done.

I hate to give away any of the good things in this book, but one of the best has to do with life on Pluto and in extremely cold temperatures. I enjoyed it quite a bit and was happy to learn it was based on some real science – although clearly much of it sprung from Benford’s mind.

My main complaint with the book is that it was overall pretty slow. There were parts where I felt like I wanted to skip ahead to get to the action. That’s never good in a book. If it weren’t for the interesting ideas on alternative life forms I might have even quit reading it. I’ve enjoyed other Benford books far more – especially Heart of the Comet and the masterful Timescape – but there is something about the way he writes and the ideas he presents that still had me enjoying this book more than I was put off by it. I rate it 2.5 stars because I believe that other Benford fans will enjoy it as well as fans of ideas on alternative life in the universe. If you don’t have one of those things going for you, you might give this book a pass.

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