Deep inside a nearly solid ball of energy called the kugelblitz, just outside the halo of the Milky Way, lurked the would-be destroyers of the universe.
Humans called them the Foe. Heechee called them the Assassins. No creature that had ever seen them had lived to tell the tale. But ancient ruins scattered about the galaxy, and the shattered remnants of races such as the Sluggards and the Voodoo Pigs, were evidence of the Foe’s devastating power—and their cold-blooded determination to destroy all intelligent life. For eons now, the Foe had been strangely silent, but galactic history made clear that they could strike again at any time. So Heechee and human had joined in a constant vigil at the edge of the kugelblitz.
Advanced Heechee technology had enabled Robinette Broadhead to live after death as a machine-stored personality. But even he, virtually immortal and with unlimited access to millennia of accumulated data, could not discover what the Foe were—or how to stop them.
Now it looked as if the Foe had ventured out again. As humans and Heechee rallied their forces to defend against an alien race that had never met defeat, Robin Broadhead found himself the only one able to deal with the Foe face to face—a meeting which would determine the future of the entire universe…
I must confess, I liked this book enough to finish it but I am glad the series is finished. Robinette Broadhead is a dull, histrionic main character and this book contains waaaay too much lecturing and philosophizing. A lot of that is done through Pohl’s usual device in this series: the computer program known as Albert Einstein.
You would think that when Rob Broadhead died, we would be free of him as main character. Instead, he is uploaded into a computer environment and survives to remain the focus of the series. I do take issue with a stored intelligence being as moody, weepy, and “gloopy” as Pohl writes Rob—without the brain structures to support emotions, I just doubt that emotion would be able to run someone’s life so completely. But what do I know? We are so far away from being able to do this, that there isn’t any way of judging. And all this anxiety now seems to be pointless—Rob is basically immortal, still wealthy & influential, and has his lady love stored with him. His only worry should be maintaining the machinery that comprises his new environment and keeping up to technological changes.
And OMG, the astrophysics that gets booted around this novel! I never minded it from Arthur Clarke, who made it a part of the story without long info-dump interludes, but Pohl gives Albert way too much screen time. Although he keeps telling Rob that he’s “making it as simple as he can,” I get the sense that Pohl was enjoying giving little lectures and I really wish that his editor had been more brutal.
What I did enjoy was getting a better sense of the Heechee, although I have still never figured out where that name came from. Pohl introduces other life forms as well, the Sluggards and the Voodoo Pigs among them. I think he could have used some help with better names for his aliens and with making them more interesting and relevant to the story. Having said that, when we do finally discover life elsewhere in the universe, I wonder how much of it will be bacteria, algae, or coral-like? Not really something that we can interact with in a meaningful way. But this is fiction, and I persist in wanting interesting aliens (like in Brin’s Uplift universe).
What a contrast to the work of Arthur Clarke! Pohl’s work is sticky with emotion, while Clarke’s is cooly intellectual. Both Pohl and Clarke have humans dealing with vastly superior alien civilizations, but Pohl’s seems menacing while Clarke’s seem to be mildly interested (<i>2001, Childhood’s End</i>) to indifferent (<i>Rendezvous with Rama</i>). Clarke’s work left me longing to know more about these aliens, while Pohl’s left me dissatisfied that they had been so involved, and yet I knew next to nothing about them.
Book number 226 in my science fiction & fantasy reading project.