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Shadows of Eternity

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Member Reviews

What a pity. It is very varied and entertaining for a while, and the speculative part is very interesting, with some brilliant moments, but how the different episodes are put together and how the protagonist's personal life is narrated is, frankly, a disaster. It is a mixture of many very interesting and tasty ingredients, but it ends up in a bland and without grace.
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This was not one of my new favs. It was nit a bad book. It just was not for me. Some of the events were intriguing but I felt kind of lost.
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Overall, I really enjoyed Shadows of Eternity. This is probably the only time I will ever say this but, this book would have greatly benefited from being turned into a series.. The story is told over decades and beyond. 

I loved the concepts, SETI library on the moon, first contact, wormholes, this book has them all and then some. Ruth, the main character is a librarian trainee. She is there to study the messages gathered over the years by SETI. Most of these messages are in the form of an AI that interacts with the librarian. The librarian uses a pod that enables them to take in the experiences with all their senses. 

My only real complaint is that the author should really talk to some actual women. The sex and sexuality was was just bad. The Noughts are always referred to as he/him and the main character is weirdly obsessed with her periods. Trust me, no woman thinks of her periods that much. For me, this ruined the flow of the book, no pun intended, 

I will be looking for more from this author, despite these issues because the concepts were truly wonderful.
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It should be obvious by now that while I’m very much into science fiction, I’m more a space opera person than hard scifi. Gadgets and gizmos are cool, but I care mostly about the characters. Unfortunately, despite the blurb (a SETI library on the moon?!?) this book is the exact opposite of what I like.

The Library on the Moon is a collection of alien AIs, referred to as Minds, and Messages, SETI communications. Ruth, newly arrived from Earth, wins a place training to become one of the Librarians responsible for interpreting those alien messages. Over the course of a series of loosely interconnected stories, Ruth explores the edges of alien intelligence – and the universe.

Let’s just start out with my main issue. Ruth is utterly boring and suffers from the worst sort of man-writing-woman cringiness. I should’ve been prepared for this, as very early on she waxes nostalgic about reading Bradbury (ok) and Heinlein, which, oh boy, yeah, that certainly puts into perspective where this particular portrayal of women is coming from. She has a roommate/friend who is basically a caricature of drunk party girl, and a few reoccurring flings. Which, I mean, get it, girl, but maybe you shouldn’t bone the lawyer who’s there to basically pressgang you? There’s frequent references to putting off a serious relationship (and children) until her career is more established (in the future, periods can be slowed down to extend fertility). Perfectly reasonable, except it’s repeated, almost word for word, several times over the course of the book. And the one time she gets her period in the book, she acts irrationally and gets weirdly emotional. I have literally no idea what purpose that section served, except that perhaps it was meant as humor. If so, it failed for me.

“The Library had shown that human speech, with its linear meanings and weakly linked concepts, was simple, utilitarian, and typical of younger minds along the evolutionary path. So Messages could be more like experiences than signals.”

The worst was a section where Ruth is raped by one of the Minds. Communicating with the Minds involves full immersion in a pod so that they can be experienced. Verbal or written communication, apparently, is terribly inefficient and very backwards. The Mind initially floats the idea of having sex with her in return for some scientific information that will literally save Earth, which she quickly shuts down, but the next time they meet, it rapes her. Her bosses at the Library brush off it off, and the Mind itself gaslights her (“well, I wouldn’t have done it if part of you didn’t want it” basically). And that’s it. It happens, Ruth is obviously traumatized for a few pages, and then the story just moves on. And that’s not even going into the sexless Noughts, who prefer nonbinary pronouns and who Ruth and other characters repeatedly misgender as male.

“Immersed in a Message, do less. In gliding slowness you may glimpse the seeds of eternity.”

So what’s good about it? The whole structure of the library and its purpose – that some SETI messages are alien AIs, that humans can train themselves to communicate with them – was absolutely fascinating. There’s also some bits about wormholes and math concepts that seemed interesting but were, frankly, incomprehensible to me. There are occasional pops of humor (Ruth’s categorization of the various sorts of messages has stuck with me), though most of it fell flat.

Overall, unless all you’re looking for are some cool scifi concepts and don’t care about all that pesky characterization, I don’t recommend this book.

I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
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I loved the premise of this so much - a SETI library on the moon interpreting alien messages? It sounded so much like my jam. Unfortunately, I should have read some of the reviews before requesting because if I had, I would have given this a pass.

Let's start with the positives. As I said, I loved the premise! The whole concept was imaginative and I loved the science behind everything. The author clearly knows his stuff and you can tell because this reads as very much "hard" sci-fi. In this library, the librarians use pods to interface with whole AIs built from alien messages and I loved the look into how translating across species might work. I also appreciated the short chapters because it made the book fly by despite all the technical language. 

On the other hand, aspects of the writing were really jarring to me. It probably took me 10% of the book to start to get a feel for the sentence structure and voice of the author and by then I had already cringed so many times at content in the book that I seriously considered DNFing it. 

For example, early on Rachel is in a pod interfacing with an alien AI who wants to have sex with her and she says no because she doesn't want to and tells her supervisor who essentially orders her to do it anyway, eventually leading to rape that is just shrugged off. Additionally she is consistently assaulted by another woman in her "friend group" (although to be honest characters come and go so quickly with no explanation that I can't be sure) and just ignores it, only for it to be later revealed that <spoiler>the woman is altering Rachel's memory trying to get information about her work</spoiler> which comes out of nowhere and is never mentioned again. Rachel also thinks about her boobs and her period way more than any woman I've ever met, and something about her sexuality made me really uncomfortable. I'm all for sexual freedom, etc. but she was constantly on the lookout for a new hookup and it did not feel necessary.  

Some other things that bothered me: 
-The upper ranks of library workers are written to be sexless and genderless but they only use he/him pronouns?
-How is a Trainee Librarian qualified to do all of this top secret/world saving work?
-The overall plot felt really disjointed. What felt like the main plot (the Ythri) didn't show up until over a third of the way through the book and even then there was a series of little vignette adventures that didn't seem relevant. Even the end of <spoiler>learning the book has been Rachel writing her story as a book</spoiler> didn't make it make sense. In fact it was kind of a let down.

Overall I definitely think there is an audience for this book, but unfortunately it was not me.
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Interesting story of a SETI library on the moon; where all the recordings and data collected from around the universe are stored, categorized and analyzed by librarians. While we are still hoping for our first proof there is something out there, in this novel there are heaps of connections having been made although no first contact – yet!

The library and its staff are brought to life. Their daily challenges, the way they live, the work they do and it’s implications for mankind are thoughtfully presented. For the women of the staff, it’s kind of like living in Alaska and a great old joke even makes an appearance “the odds are good but the goods are odd.“. I particularly enjoyed the way that galactic communications have been categorized; it made tremendous sense and I could see this becoming reality someday.

The story begins with a brand new recruit passes her interview and becomes a trainee. We follow the next half century of her life as she attacks difficult problem after difficult problem with success and grows beyond the life of a librarian into a wormhole pilot. This small description does not do her justice as the author brings her to life and throws challenge after challenge in excruciating detail. 

Everything is science driven and-based and gives you lots to think about.  I was following along through the arrival of the aliens, their visits to Earth and Mars and all of the revelations. At about the 80% mark, the book went off a few years into its future . After writing in such depth for so long, everything felt rushed and almost a different story seemed grafted on.  That’s my only criticism of a most entertaining and enjoyable book.
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I DNFed it at 15%.
I am not an evid Sci fi reader but I do enjoy it occasionally. This one was way above my level of comprehension.
The story takes place 200 years in the future. Our main character Rachel was accepted as a librarian on the moon, where there is a smirky alien AI that humans try to study. I could barely understand what was happening, and when the AI wanted to experience sex through Rachel I felt I had enough.
I don't know how appropriate were the LGBTQA+ representations, but I really disliked how the author represented Jewish people.
You can tell the author is a physicist, the science was very thoroughly descripted but the world building was lacking - I love Sci fi for the incredible atmosphere and just couldn't feel it here. 
This book just isn't for me, next time I will do more research on the author and not just pick a book for it's pretty cover.
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A great science fiction read based on real science.  Benford continues to write realistic futuristic scenarios that are highly plausible.  Hard science fiction fans will want to take a look at this book.
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Giving this one a middle of the road rating since it definitely had its pros and cons.

- The sci-fi aspect of this story, humans in space and contact with aliens, was all well done. This author is practiced within the genre so no real surprise there.

- The writing and characters in this just felt...a little forced I guess. For example, its really early on but there's a moment where our MC, Rachel, sees a once event and it reminds her of her period. Ummmm, what? I've been a chick for 31 years now and this has never once happened to me.
- Sexuality and sexism are also represented oddly in this one. I don't know that it's "toxic" or whatever, but it just felt odd.
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Shadows of Eternity by Gregory Benford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Interestingly enough, if I had read the post-script before the novel, I probably would have gotten into the tale a bit quicker.


Because it's an ongoing conversation with the writer Poul Anderson and his future history, concepts of future history, aliens, and where we might go as a species. And being a fan of Poul Anderson, I probably would have been much more enthusiastic. At least, I would have had a better idea where this might have gone.

As it is, this is not a short-term SF adventure featuring a simple librarian in space. Librarian for an alien archive, that is. What we actually get is snippets and adventures across decades and decades and then much further on down the line as humanity grows and learns and gets more involved in its own long-term survival.

But honestly? I didn't care so much for the MC. She was okay. The problems and the discoveries and the long-term SFnal ideas were much more interesting but that usually isn't entirely enough to hold a tale. Even if I wish it were so.

All told, I still found it enjoyable enough and don't regret it at all. Long-term adventure is pretty awesome, after all.
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Received as an ARC copy from NetGalley, this is an honest review. This is one of those books that does a lot of right with an adventure that's was for myself a wild ride; the hard and realistic science was well written that anyone can understand the complex concepts as its plot. The sexism that was written felt that it wasn't really needed because it felt it was more to have the women of this future-set story the right to treat men in the rude fashion that women have always faced. But the whole sex that Rachel was forced to endure with Al for information was seriously wrong, bordering on it being like some sort of alien erotic trash that undercuts the intelligence of the story. The author should have done something that never involves women having to be pimped out like a sex toy. Regardless of those issues it is still a good read.
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Gregory Benford has been writing science fiction forever.  Well, at least for a very long time, anyway.  His wikipedia bibliography shows that his first novel was published in 1970, and his first short story was published in 1966.  His breakout novel, TIMESCAPE, was published in 1980 and won the Nebula, British SF, and Campbell Awards.  Aside from TIMESCAPE, he may best be known for his Galactic Center Saga - one of my favorite series of all time.  I have a certain fondness for FOUNDATION'S FEAR, his contribution as one of the Killer B's (Brin, Benford, and Bear) in the Second Foundation series.  While I've read a smattering of his novels, I don't believe I've read any of his short fiction, although sitting on my to be read stack is "The Best of Gregory Benford", so I suspect that at some point I'll get around to reading his short fiction as well.

His latest novel, SHADOWS OF ETERNITY, is touted as a "return to the sweeping galactic science fiction that readers have been waiting for".  That is the tag line that caught my attention and drew my interest enough to want to read the novel.  While I don't think that "sweeping galactic science fiction" is an accurate description, it does take the reader to places that are certainly not of this planet.

The good news is that SETI has born fruit.  We have received messages from aliens far beyond our solar system.  Two centuries from now, there is a SETI library on the moon, where Librarians attempt to disect and understand messages from those alien civilizations, but the most interesting ones are from alien artificial intelligences.  Ruth, the protagonist that we follow throughout the book, is a Librarian in training, and she starts with the most difficult of projects, one which no experienced Librarian has been able to crack.  She thinks highly of herself, and while those thoughts appear to be warranted, they end up being a bit unbelievable at times.

It's difficult to describe the plot of the novel, as there are many different stories going on.  They do occur in a serial fashion,  and in general one does not seem to have anything to do with the next except the final story is set up by one of Ruth's successes  early in the novel.  The early events are not interesting in and of themselves, other than to set up Ruth's notoriety which leads to the final story that makes up a majority of the novel.  The Ythri (an idea that originally came from Poul Anderson who is  credited in the Afterword) are coming to our Solar System to talk to Ruth.  They feel she has the key to help them find what they are looking for.  The Ythri are secretive, of course, and don't really want to divulge the secret of their quest, although we find out early on in this story that they came via a wormhole and need to find the wormhole to be able to go home.  Humanity has never found a wormhole, although the existence of them has always been postulated.  

In the course of the story, Fraq, the leader of the Ythri, takes Ruth on a series of challenges, including free fall from space to the surface of the Earth, to going deep under the surface of Mars, to wrangling a wormhole near the corona of the sun.  But what is it all for?

And that indeed is the question the reader is left with when reaching the completion of the novel.  Yes, the novel has a lot of interesting ideas that Benford explores in great detail; it *is* a hard science fiction novel, after all.  And ideas always form the basis of traditional core sf, which this is.  However, the novel is disjointed.  As I previously stated, there are multiple stories here.  Characters are introduced early on and then left behind, either never to be mentioned again or brought up in an  offhand way.  And while each of the stories within the novel are interesting in and of themselves, other than the common point of having the SETI library involved, they are not interconnected at all.  Indeed, the final sections of the novel state that Ruth is no longer with the SETI library, without much explanation of why the separation happened.  In the end, it's not really clear what
story Benford was trying to tell.

I would be remiss if I didn't bring up what I believe to be something totally irrelevant to whatever story Benford is trying to  tell, that of how sex is treated in the book, and in particular Ruth's sexual escapades.  They really don't add anything to the novel at all, and at times are down right...icky.  While I'm not a prude by any stretch of the imagination, I still can't see the  non-consensual sex with an AI episode as anything but off putting.  It didn't add anything to the ongoing story, and it certainly didn't add anything to Ruth's character.

I really wanted to like this novel, and in fact there were portions that I found fascinating and interesting.  But in the end, no number of interesting ideas - I really did like that sequence where the attempt was made to wrangle a wormhole excruciatingly close to the sun - were able to make this an inviting book.  Benford is 80 now, and I hope that if he writes another novel that it will be better than this one.  If he doesn't write another one, he's had a terrific career.  Of that there is no doubt.
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Thank you to NetGalley and to Saga Press for this ARC.

I’d never read anything by Benford before, so I didn’t know what to expect. Because of the length of the book, I had a look at spoilerish reviews about halfway through, and what reviewers said a lot was “hard sci-fi”, which this definitely was.

But, bewildering. Because there are 6 stories in here, and you get a sense of time passing without an actual idea of where you are in time at each point (except, somewhere in the almost unimaginable future).


Oh, a strong hint about that future is that male and female relationship roles are apparently reversed (this I imagine by trying to get into the author’s mind, not because I myself believe in roles), with the main protagonist — a woman — using men for sex (and, memorably, forgetting one lovely man’s name after a lengthy interaction), and men all needy and wanting commitment. (!)

Oh, but then there’s (also bewildering) a foray into this woman’s hormonal “stuff” — how she controls her period using medication, an episode of PMS, how she must think about when she wants kids but career first! and so on. (The F-F friendship that’s used as a frame for this is decidedly odd.) I found myself squinting and frowning a lot, trying to imagine what this author thinks women are like. But then, it’s sci-fi, right?

Her male partners are also so bafflingly one-dimensional (except for the one whose name she forgets).

So, sexism! A kind of clever reverse sexism, but sexism, nonetheless.


And then, the characters! Incredibly unlikeable, most of them; and especially main one. The (spoiler) alien is at least interesting, and memorable — but, turns out, that one was inspired by Pohl, who created a whole world of them (Ythri), so, 😕

As mentioned above, the main protagonist’s POV is supposed to be a woman’s, but she feels badly characterised.


Very interesting concepts, if you can catch up. The author often introduces a new scene, concepts and characters with no background (spoiler, e.g. the Mat, which you have to pause your imagination for until you get an unclear description later in the chapter. But why Mat? Because it’s like a mat?).

Lots of catch-up in this book, and sometimes you never really do. I don’t mind hard sci-fi, which is usually necessarily high-concept, so this alone didn’t put me off; but it may others.

In summary:

I read most books to the end to try and get into what the author was trying to do. With this one, though, I tweeted about my bafflement because I really couldn’t get my head around most of it. In retrospect, it’s possible that the author tried to do too much in one book. Also came away thinking either the author doesn’t like people, and/or tried too hard to create a strong female protagonist by making her into a horrible man (🙃🥲)

It was interesting, though, for the concepts. For that reason:

Rated: 6/10, but unless you’re into hard SF, may not appeal.

Edit: I forgot to mention the treatment of non-gendered (?) people in this book, which is atrocious. (It??)
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A Sci-Fi novel that has this caliber is sure gonna make readers imagine things they never
thought they would have. I love those kinds of stories. They are one of the best kinds for taking
you on a journey beyond what has been told from the book. but somehow this story had given
me the thought of uncertainty.

This is still an argument whether we are alone or not in this vast galaxy we live in because there
is still not enough evidence to conclude that we have neighbors on other planets. In the future,
this argument has ended for we have received a lot of data from probes that have been sent to
places we could not. In this story we had built a library on the moon, A SETI library to store all
the data we had received and to decipher it for us to understand. Ruth was just a beginner
librarian but she already had open some possibilities too complex for others to understand.

With all those information and fantasies this book is definitely an interesting one. one major
setback for me is about a character discovers something that a team had failed to do for years. I
just don`t condone those. Some people had worked and sacrificed a lot to discover something
but fail to do so. Knowing others have progressed in their life`s work is really painful. That is just
the thing that bothers me hehe. Other than that it was a great adventure and definitely
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Book Review: Shadows of Eternity
Author: Gregory Benford
Publisher: Gallery Books/Saga Press
Publication Date: October 19, 2021
Review Date: July 1, 2021

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

From the blurb:
““A fascinating plunge into a new world. I loved the idea of the SETI Library on the moon. Chasing wormholes is also a wild ride!” —Jack McDevitt, bestselling author of Octavia Gone

Shadows of Eternity is legendary author Gregory Benford’s return to interstellar science fiction as a discovery within the SETI library on the moon turns out to be deadly.

Shadows of Eternity is a novel set two centuries from now. Humanity has established a SETI library on the moon to decipher and interpret the many messages from alien societies we have discovered. The most intriguing messages are from complete artificial intelligences.

Ruth, a beginner Librarian, must talk to alien minds—who have aggressive agendas of their own. She opens doors into strangeness beyond imagination—and in her quest for understanding nearly gets killed doing it.

Gregory Benford is one of science fiction’s iconic writers, having been nominated for four Hugo Awards and twelve Nebula Awards. Shadows of Eternity marks Gregory Benford’s return to the sweeping galactic science fiction that readers have been waiting for. 
I know that Mr. Benford is a highly esteemed long-time writer of science fiction. But this book…was a very difficult slog. Primarily because I found it too cerebral. The world he built was difficult for me to grasp. The characters were bland. I had a hard time visualizing all the various physical spaces encountered, and the plot moved like molasses.

I would give this book 2-3 stars, not recommended. It is very unusual for me to not recommend a book. Perhaps I will take another swipe in the future.

Thank you to the publisher for allowing me access to this book. This review will be posted on NetGalley and Goodreads.

#shadowsofeternity #gregorybenford #gallerypress #sciencefiction
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According to the author's afterword, Shadows of Eternity grew out of the idea of not writing the standard SETI story of the first message received, but fast-forwarding hundreds of years to when many messages have been detected and their study is an academic discipline all its own (which is a pretty great idea). As such, the book is centered around the SETI Library, an archive of such messages on the Moon, and one particular new librarian, Rachel Cohen. Frankly, the book feels like it wants to be a short story collection rather than a novel; there are, I'd say, 6 distinct plot sections, each of which could stand alone with a different POV character:

1) Some kind of interstellar cloud of danger is impinging on the solar system, and Rachel must try to find out some information from the archive that can help humanity survive it
2) Rachel is set the task of deciphering another difficult AI message, and learns to express math as an alien symphony
3) A ship full of sentient bird-like aliens (called the Ythri, inspired by the work of Benford's friend and contemporary Poul Anderson) arrives in the solar system via wormhole and demands Rachel as the liaison for making first contact (which consists of her basically doing a bunch of extreme sports with the leader of the Ythri, named Fraq) due to her role in resolving the threat in Part 1
4) Fraq and Rachel (and others) go to Mars to communicate with the Marsmat, a semi-sentient anaerobic organism living underground there, about a previous visit by the Ythri something like a million years ago
5) Rachel accompanies an expedition to retrieve the Mouth of the wormhole that Fraq's ship came in through, which spun away as they exited it and ended up trapped in a magnetic arch very near the surface of the sun
6) Seven years later, now Rachel is a full-time co-pilot of the ship from Part 5, and takes part in the first human transit of the wormhole

Some of these bits are super interesting, especially the Marsmat section. But the pacing is a little weird (the first two sections are MUCH shorter than the greater Ythri plotline, and have virtually nothing to do with anything that happens later), and there's no real credible reason why Rachel should be central to all of these. She starts out as a librarian of no particular prowess or experience, and Part 1 is solved by no real action of her own -- the AI she's talking to kind of just thinks she's hot and basically rapes her so it can experience her sensorium when she has an orgasm, and then tells her how to save the solar system (because its prime directive is its own preservation and propagation, and if the solar system gets fried so does it). Which is more than a little uncomfortable as a reader. She has a more active role as a librarian in Part 2, but all the subsequent parts are so far afield from her training and specialization it doesn't really make sense to have her as the unitary POV carrying through each. It saves Benford from having to introduce and characterize a new protagonist for each section, but it's not like Rachel is a well-fleshed-out character in the first place; the only real consistent character trait that sticks out is that she's kinda horny and keeps sexualizing and hooking up with men(view spoiler). Not a strong enough character to be worth the suspension of disbelief that she would be part of all these subplots.

This is my first Benford, but it seems to me that people read Benford for the hard-SF technical detail and cool science, so the above complaints probably aren't that big a problem -- and probably are just a consequence of him having too many interesting ideas, that range too widely, for one plot through-line to encompass them coherently. If you're here for the hard-SF of it all, you won't be disappointed; it would just be nice if the other aspects of the book were a little stronger.
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This took me a little while to get into but once I did I really enjoyed the story. Gregory Benford has a beautiful way of making a world. His descriptions are vivid and makes me feel like I was there. This was an enjoyable story for any Sci-Fi fan. Thank you NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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I really REALLY wanted to like this book. I was hopeful that it would become a favorite based on the premise because I'm a sucker for books about books.

I gave up and shelved this as a DNF. Perhaps it picks up later so I gave it two stars because with better editing, I'm sure the author could have developed more dimensional characters, the story line dragged along at a slow pace, and the writing was dry.
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I have received a digital advance review copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion. Thank you!

1 star - This could have been so good ...

DNF at 51 %

Okay, so I have many feelings and this will be a bit ranty, but bear with me.

When I first heard about the premise I thought this book would be a total winner. A SETI-Library on the moon? Deciphering and translating alien messages? What could possibly go wrong?

Well, this is an excellent example for how to ruin a good idea.

Let's start with the good stuff: this book is chock full of great ideas. The whole setup with the SETI library on the moon is fantastic. We are a couple of hundred years in the future and humanity has received plenty of messages through the SETI program. So many and complex messages actually, that the library that has been installed to understand them is now a very prestigious organization and only the best get accepted to work there.
The received data streams have in some cases contained even whole AIs, called Minds, that now live on the servers of the library. Librarians can communicate with them via so-called pods, basically an interface that connects to the whole sensory range.

I actually really liked how the translation process is described as being very mathematical and complex - and understanding the alien thought processes is not possible by using mere words. It is quite mind-bending, actually, and this aspect was captured well.

But now here's the less good stuff.

So, this one's hopelessly old-fashioned in the worst way regarding gender roles and the treatment of sexuality.

Want some examples? Early on, Rachel, the protagonist, is being groped and kissed (against her will) by another woman and only reacts with being kind of embarrassed. Not a single person surrounding this scene (and there are many!) feels like this is a violation and the whole incident is just being shrugged off.
Then there's the comments about how women are safe with a certain group of people because they have been removed of their sexuality - because of course we all know that men are just hypersexual brutes who cannot help themselves but to attack women who cross their path.
Every single stupid stereotype about men and women you have ever heard of is scattered throughout the story. Men are aggressive and territorial. Women are intuitive. PMSing women are moody.

All of the above is dumb, but I could maybe have lived with it if I really tried. But there is more and it is NOT COOL.

See, there is a whole sub-plot about one of the AIs Rachel interacts with wanting to have sex with her. She doesn't want to and tells the AI so. She also tells her supervisor - and guess how they react: they order her to do it anyway, because they hope to get some very important information from this AI. Rachel continues interacting with that AI and, sure enough, it enters her mind against her will and has sex with her. Not sure how to call this anything but rape. But worst of all: Rachel is mostly a little angry at herself because she kind of enjoyed it and otherwise just shrugs it off. Her supervisor actually even tells her that they don't see her issue, because she seemed to be enjoying herself. Awesome. And that's it, Rachel reacts by banging some dude (yes, really) and the story just moves on.

Later in the plot some aliens who have wings and can fly enter the stage. And, would't we have guessed it, again Rachel is being encouraged to "get to know the leader better" by her supervisor (yes, it is very much implied that her having sex with him would be appreciated). Her reaction: "Umm, sure, that smart bird (her words, not mine - and really offensive on its own) is actually kinda a hot dude..."


I have this feeling that the author doesn't really GET people. All of the characters are incredibly two-dimensional, some you could only call one-dimensional really. I do not care about any of them, there is no growth, no relatable feelings. The dialogue is ridiculous and most of the time I have no idea waht everybody is supposed to be insinuating. And seriously, why did Benford chose a female main character? He clearly cannot relate to her at all, so I cannot help but think this is just a bit of tokenism, because femist Sci-Fi is on the rise. Well, this is NOT how you do feminist Sci-Fi!

Also, the prose is really stuffy, convoluted and not terribly accessible. I guess it's supposed to be literary and metaphorical but to me it just feels very self-congratulatory.

I'm so dissappointed and did not finish this one. I cannot remember the last time I did that, actually. I guess there's an audience for this book out there, but it definietely was not for me.
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I received a digital advanced reading copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I really wanted to like it. The cover caught my attention and then I read the description. A SETI library on the moon, messages from aliens, and artificial intelligences?! Count me in! Unfortunately, I was greatly disappointed, frustrated, and it left a bad taste in my mouth.

The overall plot and various details were fascinating. Humans colonizing the moon and Mars, how they communicate with alien artificial intelligences and study messages from undiscovered alien societies, contact with intelligent aliens, intelligent planets, wormholes, etc. These things alone are what kept me reading.

However, the negatives almost made me quit halfway and, honestly, I probably should have.

[Trigger Warning: The following section contains references to events that may be traumatic to some readers.]

Small Issues
The overall pacing was slow and the timeline was confusing. I had no sense of how much time was passing within and between chapters. Subplots were never resolved and some characters were just never mentioned again. It actually felt like the second half was a new plot and should’ve been a separate book. The editing needs some work as well. Words were often misspelled and the same sentence, paragraph, and even an entire section popped up twice as if the author had decided to move it and forgot to delete it’s original.

Writing Style
This is a hard science novel, which is completely fine. I can handle some hard science but the writing style was straight like reading a textbook. I’m sure there are numerous, amazing ideas and theories but they were written in a way that was difficult to understand. Environments were overly described and I often zoned out reading them. Overall, it felt pompous and pretentious. This writing style also made it extremely difficult to connect with the characters, especially the protagonist, Rachel. We were often told what she was seeing, doing, and feeling, but never felt as if we were experiencing it with her.

[Trigger Warning]

Surprisingly, most of the sexism was directed towards men in this book. Men were often implied to be aggressive and unsafe for women. Women make plans for how to deal with men in bars and there’s a type of human genetically created to be sexless, being described as safe for women to be around them. Related side note, the genetically altered people are said to generally prefer they/them pronouns but Rachel chooses not to respect that, referring to her specific higher ups as men due to their masculine appearance. Somewhat rude and bigoted.

Sexual Assault and Sexuality
This is my biggest problem with this novel. Whether or not it’s just an issue of a man trying to write from a woman’s perspective, there are things that happen in this book that are just unacceptable. Red flags went up when Rachel was kissed and groped against her will by a stranger and no one, not even herself, said or did anything about it, acting as if it was fine and normal and just a little embarrassing.

Blaring alarms went off not much later. While communicating with an alien AI using a full sensory 
“pod,” it demands sex in return for solar system saving information. Rachel refuses, her commanding officer tells her to do it anyway, she still refuses, tries to get the info again, and the AI basically rapes her. Her higher ups deny knowing this was going to happen and when she confronts the AI later, it tells her it was acceptable because she wanted it. Then Rachel feels guilty because she thinks she actually enjoyed it. There were no consequences or punishments. Besides getting the information they needed, the only other result was Earth media found out she was the first to have sex with an alien AI, leaving out it was technically rape. In the end, she doesn’t even seem the least bit upset claiming this like it’s some kind of accomplishment.

I believe in women having sexual freedom but after this disgusting, pointless rape subplot, the way Rachel’s sexuality was written just made me uncomfortable. Rachel goes out looking for men to sleep with regularly, sleeps with a coworker, finds a future coworker attractive and she becomes “moist” while looking at him. She even fantasizes about sleeping with a bird-like alien to then become his lover in the end. Were any of these details really needed to build her character and drive this story? No.

All that said, I really do believe the bones of a really amazing story with amazing characters is here. It’s just buried under subplots and details that are uncomfortable and not needed. Needless to say, I do not recommend this book and I hope the author might consider making a number of edits before it's officially released.
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