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Eater Mass Market Paperback – May 1, 2001

3.3 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Benford (The Martian Race), a physics professor at UC-Irvine and a Nebula winner for his novel Timescape, is one of the leading exponents of hard SFAwhich, no matter how fantastic it might seem, never violates established scientific laws. His newest novel takes one of the oldest SF plotsAfirst contactAand spruces it up with great success using the latest developments in astronomy and, in particular, new information on black holes. In the early 21st century, astronomers observe what appears to be a distant gamma-ray burster, a black hole swallowing another star many light years away. The data is troubling because a second burster occurs only 13 h ours later, which, given the immense distance between stars, should be impossible. Eventually, the astronomers realize that the black hole, rather than being incredibly distant, is on the edge of our solar system, and moving our way at considerable speed. Stranger still, it appears to be under intelligent guidance, or, perhaps, to be intelligent itself. One of Benford's specialties is presenting science the way it's really done, and this is clearly the case here. His three astronomer-protagonistsABenjamin Knowlton; his cancer-stricken wife, Channing; and the British Astronomer Royal, Kingsley Dart, whom Benford has partly based on Freeman DysonAare nicely drawn and highly believable. His alien is, well, incredibly alien and endlessly fascinating. Less successful are Benford's government officials, who can come across as caricaturesAbut this is a minor fault. Full of astronomical pyrotechnics and the kind of intellectual verbal fencing that seems to go along with creative scientific thinking, Benford's latest should delight any serious reader of SF. Agent, Ralph Vicinanza.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

YA-Long before there was time, a black hole became a wandering entity, feeding on asteroids, planets, and remnants of the Big Bang. Eventually, it began engulfing ancient civilizations in its never-ending roaming across the expanse of time and space. When it reaches the edge of Earth's solar system, three scientists, Benjamin Knowlton, his wife Channing, and their friend and colleague Kingsley Dart, take on the fight to prevent the black hole, named Eater, from annihilating the Earth. Basing the foundation of the story on scientific knowledge in the fields of physics and astronomy, Benford gives enough background in both areas to elucidate concepts without overstating the obvious. He develops the main characters as the story unfolds, paralleling their personal changes, their shared history, and their heroic interactions with the increasing malevolence of the Eater. Deftly weaving scientific procedure around an exciting plot of adventure and destruction, and inserting the interpersonal relationships of three intense personalities, Benford creates scientific fiction that sounds very real.
Pam Johnson, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 392 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (May 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0380790564
  • ISBN-13: 978-0380790562
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,935,375 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By TChris TOP 500 REVIEWER on September 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A mechanism constructed around a black hole billions of years ago has been traveling across the universe gathering and banking digitized versions of intelligent life. As it approaches Earth, it demands that several thousand humans be sacrificed to its library of knowledge, including specific individuals (Hillary Clinton among them). To encourage compliance, it uses magnetic energy to pummel D.C. and to visit lightning storms upon military or scientific bases while it gobbles up satellites. Working furiously, and often at odds with the military and political figures who try to control the operation, a team of astronomers searches for a way to chase the mechanism away.

While some reviewers here have complained that the novel's central thesis isn't fresh, that didn't particularly bother me. I enjoyed Eater for a couple of reasons. First, the key characters are flawed, human, and multidimensional. They made this a more interesting story than I usually expect from hard sf--and I do mean hard, given that the discussion of astrophysics was far beyond my grasp.

Second, while science fiction written by scientists typically portrays scientists as the saviors of the human race, Benford offered insightful views of how scientists compete against each other even while working together. He shows them indulging in professional jealousies, often a bit petty, and demonstrates how scientists can engage in politics even while claiming to despise politicians.

The story's emphasis on people--their follies and foibles, their complicated relationships, their cooperation and competition--makes this novel stand out. Hard sf too often focuses on ideas and places secondary (if any) emphasis on characters. Maybe that makes good reading for people of a scientific bent, but for those of us who don't have degrees in astrophysics, it's nice to encounter a novel of hard sf in which people matter.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this first-contact story for the real (or at least plausible) science, the believable characters and the unusual plot. It was, all in all, a lot of fun. I especially enjoyed the political humor with the president and the UN and their cronies being in way over their heads and finally of no use at all. But then just about everyone was overwhelmed, as could be expected, until the satisfying end. So now it's back to searching for something else of Benford's that I haven't read. I hope he's hard at work on a new one.
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Format: Hardcover
Had this novel been the first of Benford's which I'd read, I admit I'd be pretty impressed. But knowing the works of which Benford is capable, this novel was quite a disappointment. Readers who are impressed by his examination of the scientific process may wish to look at his previous novel, Cosm, which was essentially the same thing. This novel contained two-dimensional characters, whose main duty seemed to be spewing out tiny little jokes about science and bureaucracy. Rather than coming up with an original work, Benford seems to have rehashed many of his previous novels: the probe approaching Earth in In the Ocean of Night, the examination of the possible nature of black holes in the final two novels of the Galactic Centre Cycle, the look at scientific methods and bureaucracy in Cosm--even the line, "The thing about aliens is, they're alien," had been done to death in his six-book Cycle, and was repeated here ad nauseum. From a writer of Benford's intelligence and talent, I expected much more originality and depth. This is his first work in which I was disappointed.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
The core idea of this story is fascinating--an intelligent black hole. And Benford manages to make this seemingly implausible idea sound plausible. The intelligence actually exists in the magnetic fields that surround the black hole--and there's all sorts of scientific hand-waving to make it work in terms of the story. Unfortunately, Benford falls down on the job in executing this idea.

The first major problem is that the book reads like it needed another revision. The characterization is a bit shallow--and, what's worse, not entirely consistent. Two of the main characters, Benjamin and Kingsley, start off the book as long-time professional and personal rivals--not bitter enemies, but not on the best of terms. Somewhere along the way they become old friends. It could be that, under the crisis, their relationship evolves into friendship--but I don't see this evolution happening. It could be that their original relationship was more mixed, a combination of rivalry and friendship, but that's not what I read. Benford needed to spend more time working this out. There were other problems that should simply have been caught be a decent editor--like scenes that start out with the main characters meeting privately in an office and then move without transition to being set in a large auditorium with many people chipping in; or conversations where characters reply to themselves.

The other big problem with the novel is the way the original sense of wonder, so essential to good science fiction, swiftly becomes a rather tedious sense of horror. The early parts of the novel where the main characters (all astronomers) realize that this bizarre anomaly entering the solar system is a black hole--and *it wants to talk to them*--are fascinating.
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