7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Best of the Series,
This review is from: FURIOUS GULF (Galactic Center, No 5) (Mass Market Paperback)
This is the fifth novel of Benford's "Galactic Center" series - the others are "In the Ocean of Night" (1977), "Across the Sea of Suns" (1984), "Great Sky River" (1987), "Tides of Light" (1989), and "Sailing Bright Eternity" (1995). The novels are grouped in two's - the first two concerning Nigel Walmsley and the relatively near future, the middle two Killeen Bishop and the far future in the galactic center, where humans are scavengers, and the last two Killeen's son Toby, and the conclusion of the series at the true center of the galaxy.
"Furious Gulf", the fifth novel, is both the shortest of the series and the one I found most compelling. Benford's flowery language can get away from him at times, making the other novels seem longer than need be. But it was also the real climax of the series - the Bishop clan heads straight to the central black hole, and there are exciting new creatures, artificial structures, and astrophysical marvels all over the place. The mechanical intelligences have been busy at the galactic center, and others have been at work there too. But the novel also works the best because here Benford's favored "loner" character makes sense for a teenager who's having problems with his father: the "furious gulf" of the title is in part the one between generations, a central piece of the mystery that makes organic life, and humans in particular, special in the universe. Toby also maintains a wonderfully portrayed friendship with the myriapodia creature who accompanies them. His internal development from boyhood is one of the novel's (and series') strengths.
Another "furious gulf" is that between the mechanical and organic intelligences, exhibited throughout the series but most explored toward the end. It's not clear where Benford finds such a sharp distinction coming from; it seems at first from a dualist philosophy like that espoused in Penrose's "Emperor's New Mind": a robot can never think like a person. But there are deliberate or self-induced defects in the mechanical designs that seem to be at the root. The robot/mechanical minds lack laughter - they wonder what purpose it serves. They see life very differently: their minds can be eternal, even as their bodies are frequently discarded and replaced with new upgraded models. In contrast, organic life starts anew with each generation; minds are constantly renewed and also constantly faced with their own extinction - is that the root of the difference? And yet there are the "higher powers" who seem to have overcome these differences, though Benford has little discussion on how that could happen.
There are other gaps - most notably the thirty millenia between the first two novels and the last four, a period described with fascinating nostalgia in the later books, but with no direct narrative. Sometimes the physics seems stretched a bit - in "Furious Gulf" one wonders how the "esty" can possibly sustain life with its chaotic rearrangements. But the breadth of Benford's scientifically plausible imagination in these novels is amazing in itself; read these novels to gain a perspective on life in the universe and what a sufficiently advanced civilization might do with a galaxy such as our own.