Greg Bear


"Quantico"

(Reviewed by Ann Wilkes SEP 30, 2006)

Greg Bear has the incredible ability to cross genre lines with ease. Quantico passes for Sci-Fi with its speculative look at the future and its fascinating science. However, it could also pass as a suspense novel or even a spy thriller.

Quantico takes us to a near future in which terrorism has reshaped the world. He extrapolates from current trends towards an out-of-control government crippled by infighting and distrust. Small factions from small countries can wipe out the population of entire metropolitan cities around the globe. Those mandated to protect our freedom strive to throw off the chains of public opinion and partisan approval. No one plays by the rules.

Rebecca Rose, a veteran FBI agent specializing in bio terrorism makes a connection between a slain deputy on a desert highway in Arizona near an abandoned eighteen-wheeler full of inkjet printers and a white supremacist cult leader in Washington State who has eluded capture for decades. In our cartoons and comic strips we expect the villains to be unstable, even pathological. Show me something different, I thought as I read about the Patriarch. This guy’s been done to death. Did Bear anticipate my thoughts? Was he thinking them himself? Hmmmm. I wonder. When characters don’t work out, the easiest way out is to kill them. It fixes the problem and shakes things up at the same time. After the death of the Patriarch, things become less and less predictable.

Bear weaves a tale of intrigue and suspense that chills to the bone in its frightening plausibility. Most of us suspect that our secret service and military branches have black ops teams that do the dirty work; who "save" us by destroying terrorists without a trial and who will be disavowed if things go south or the incoming administration doesn’t approve. Sounds familiar but Bear pushes this idea to its limits. Past our comfort zones. A good novel should keep us guessing and may even make us squirm.  

The suspense carries this plot-driven story along. I could not invest in Bear's characters; his characters failed to draw me in. Rebecca Rose walks the fence on so many levels it is hard for us to really know her. We are never in her head long enough to get a sense of what she’s capable of. Bear paints her as a tough, cynical veteran and at other times shows her tenderness. We all have many facets but hers are slapped together without any glue. Rose works with a rookie. Now there’s a cliché for you. The rookie in question is a bit of a puzzle too. We see glimpses of him through his musings around his dad and his upbringing but never can pin him down. Toward the end, he reacts with emotion, with numbness. He finally stops being the eager puppy trying to get his master’s approval. But when did this happen? There were no signposts along the way. Characters should change when faced with the friction of their environment and interactions with the unexpected. Without a clear picture of their true nature, it’s hard to tell if they are truly changing or they are just, finally, showing their true selves.

I’m a sucker for a good character driven novel, which this is not, but I love SciFi for the very fact that we can address social issues in a safe "other" environment. Bear has done that here. It’s a scary look at an all too plausible "what if." Just imagine DNA specific anthrax that will target only Jews and Muslims. Imagine our government letting its left hand carry out such a plan? What happens when an agent breaks? Says to himself, ‘"No more. Now we play it my way."  What can be worse than anthrax?

I did have one nagging question that didn’t seem to be answered in the end but I still enjoyed the book and would recommend it to fans of SF, spy thrillers or suspense. I was reading Bear’s Darwin’s Children when this novel arrived in my mailbox. It wasn’t hard to put that novel down to get to Quantico. And Quantico went with me everywhere.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 29 reviews
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"Dead Lines"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark JUL 3, 2004)

“A click, then silence. Peter pulled the unit away, then raised it to his ear again. The quiet in the room seemed to deepen. He tried the other ear. Same thing.

Actually, he was impressed. He had never heard voices so clearly on a phone. Michelle could have been right there in the house.

Maybe Weinstein was on the up-and-up.”

This is an old-fashion ghost story with a high tech enabler. Not a jump-out-of-skin-scary story, more of a California-style supernatural thriller. The novel begins with 58-year-old Peter Russell receiving news that Phil Richard, his best friend of thirty-five years, has died. The news arrives via the most low-tech method – Phils’s ex-wife sends a letter written with a fountain pen. Well actually, Peter receives the news over his cell phone via text messaging; friend Carla has dropped by his house, reads the handwritten note and “texts” the message to him. Peter is totally taken aback by the news.

Peter is a the epitome of a middle-aged Californian. He drives a vintage Porche 356C, had been in the movie business – his specialty titillation movies, lots of nudity but no actual sex; but then hard core movies made his style obsolete. So rather than Joseph Adrian Benoliel secretly funding his next movie, Peter’s been the multi-millionaire’s errand boy for the past few years, showing up whenever summoned. On this particular day when he arrives at Salammbo (a twenty acre Malibu estate with a long history of tragedy) he bumps into Stanley Weinstein who is there to approach Benoliel as an investor for his company, which makes a telecommunications device called the Trans, a phone-like device that enables “free talk.” Always on, without a service plan and available anywhere in the world, the Trans “ovoid” comes in a multiple colors and Weinstein is handing them out to everyone hoping to get the buzz going. Given all that, strangely, the phone does not work within Joseph’s home, thus he’s reluctant to invest. So when the aging Joseph leaves the room with his wife, Michelle for a scheduled medical treatment, Weinstein makes a deal with Peter. If he can get Joseph to put up money, then he’ll pay Peter a nice sum and award him IPO shares. They sign (Peter figures there is no betrayal since Joseph rarely changes his mind) and Peter now has ten new ovoids to hand out. Meanwhile, Michelle has her own box of Trans to share. She finds that as long as she is outside, it works just fine. Always looking out for Peter, she surmises that Weinstein has made a deal with him and she promises to convince her husband to invest – and she’ll give Peter the credit. After all, Peter is her pet project.

One of the things that we get a sense early that Peter's life changed due to a very tragic event and that his divorce, his lassitude, is the result of his daughter's sudden death. The details of this incident are revealed slowly, but it is what forms the best parts of the ghost story.

It is obvious from the blurb and everything you know about the book before reading it that the new phones, the ovoids, have something to do with unsettling the dead. The subtitle of the book is “a novel of life… after death” and thus there is little surprise that coincident with the presence of the ovoids is the experience of apparitions. Joseph’s peculiar errand that he’s asked Peter to do for him is to go to an appointment with a spiritual older woman called Sandaji and to ask her one question: Can a man live without a soul? This meeting doesn’t go quite the way that it should -- most likely due to the fact that Peter has a Trans in his pocket -- but at least Peter gets the interesting answer for Joseph. And at the end of the novel we can understand exactly why Joseph asked the question.

Like any one encountering ghosts for the first time, Peter is unwilling or unable to recognize what he is experiencing. One thing after another happens. Wraiths and ghosts. As the reader, we have the perspective to know that these incidences are part of the ghost story; typical, poor Peter initially thinks he’s losing his mind. At least until he becomes more used to what he is seeing.

The interesting thing about this book is that we don’t so much as get a high tech explanation about how the Trans works, instead we learn how death works. “Death is more like being born. It’s a long, hard giving up of warmth for something you don’t know. There’s a desperate glamour that surrounds the living, and for a time, the dead think they are still in the game. They cling to any memory of their life--- the sharper and stronger, the better. The dead grieve. They grieve for the living, for what they have lost, their places, their possessions, their loved ones, all that defined them in this world. Their mournful need holds them to the Earth. And so they must be shaken loose, like flakes of old skin.” The Trans is somehow using this limbo for free communication and is upsetting the balance of the dead being able to move to the next stage of being dead. What fills in the story is Peter’s grief over his daughter, the victim of an unsolved murder. (Actually, now that I type the quote about Death, I would say that these words apply to Peter as well – you could say he’s living dead.) Predictably, what moves the story forward to its conclusion is the realization that the Trans must be shut down. Not so predictable is when we find ourselves in the middle of a murder mystery; ends that we hadn’t quite realized are loose are securely, if not a bit horrifically, tied.

Overall, I like this book; though, I believe there will be people who will complain that it is too quiet, more ideas than thrills. It is certainly a fresh twist on a classic storyline. Those who like to think about what happens after death – those who believe in ghosts and want a reasonable explanation as to why or how they might exist, these are the people who will most enjoy this novel. Of course, once you’ve finished the novel, you’ll probably be completely creeped out over the possibility of a Trans. I think I don’t mind that my cell phone doesn’t haven’t complete coverage, after all.
  • Amazon readers rating: from 35 reviews


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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

The Forerunner Saga:

FBI Series

Eon Series

Infinity Concerto Series

Nanotech Series

Forge of God Series

Star Trek books:

Short Story Collections:

 

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Book Marks:

 

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About the Author:

Greg BearGreg Bear is the author of twenty-eight books of science fiction and fantasy. He has been awarded two Hugos and four Nebulas for his fiction, one of two authors to win a Nebula in every category. He has been called the "Best working writer of hard science fiction" by "The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Science Fiction." His last novel, DARWIN'S RADIO, a novel about human evolution, has been nominated for the Hugo Award and the Nebula and has been honored with the Endeavor.

Greg Bear has also worked as a bookseller and lectured for the San Diego City Schools, acting as a roving teacher and conducting short classes on ancient history, the history of science, and science fiction/fantasy. As an illustrator, his artwork has appeared on Galaxy, Fantasy and Science Fiction and Vertex and books both hardcover and paperback. These days he does very little artwork, devoting himself almost exclusively to writing. He has served at several positions with SFWA, including Vice President of SFWA for a year, and President for two years (1988-1990). He has also served on the Citizen's Advisory Council on National Space Policy, consulted with Microsoft and other software companies and served as science and speculations advisor for the pilot episode of the Amblin/Universal TV production Earth 2.

He is married to Astrid Anderson Bear and the father of two, Erik and Alexandra.
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