“Assemblers of Infinity” by Kevin J. Anderson & Doug Beason
review by P. Douglas Reeder
This novel appeared as a serial in the September to December 1992 issues of Analog.
Readers unfamiliar with nanotechnology may find this novel more exciting than I did. It describes the basics of nanotechnology in a fashion not as good as most other descriptions I have read. I failed to identify with or care about what happened to the characters. This is not a bad work, it just never came to life for me. It may come alive for you.
The conflict of the novel is a mysterious, dangerous structure that appears without warning on the lunar farside. The characters are challenged to figure out what it’s purpose is.
Besides a number (too many?) supporting characters, there are four main characters: Jason Dvorak, commander of the (nearside) moonbase, Erika Trace, nanotech researcher, Celeste McConnel, director of the “United Space Agency”, and General Simon Pritchard. The novel telegraphs that Dvorak and Trace will form a relationship long before they get together, but fails to show why they are attracted to each other. McConnel and Pritchard’s relationship came as a surprise to me and never seemed natural, either. Certainly, people are attracted to one another for reasons that don’t make sense to others, but relationships among the main characters must form some pattern with the rest of a novel, make some statement about life and/or the human condition.
[Minor spoilers follow]
There are a number of elements that don’t make sense. The moonbase launches many suborbital probes to take short looks at the artifact, instead of putting something in lunar orbit or at the L-2 point, where they have a frequently-mentioned communications relay. (something well within the demonstrated capabilities of the space agency), where it could continuously observe the artifact. At one point one of the characters even expresses the wish that the L-2 relay had a camera, yet no one thinks to put one there!
When the L-1 transfer station and the moonbase become infected, the L-1 station is blown up and the crew crowded into the moonbase. This does not improve the quarantine and makes communication and supply delivery more complicated, in addition to eliminating a base that would very expensive to replace. It seems like the authors decided that there weren’t enough explosions, and it was time for some excitement, never mind whether it makes sense.
Trace’s first attempt to modify totally alien machinery (which she states she does not understand) produces exactly what she intends.
There is no rising action as such; an event happens, another event happens, and another event happens, without any real integration into a whole. In particular, the whole scene at the nuclear bomb storage site should have been dropped, as it contributes nothing to the work. The homemade bomb sequence was very abrupt.
This is, in fact, the major problem with the whole novel: it does not form a whole. Instead of creating suspense out of the core material, the authors add in additional chunks of events and characters.
The November Biolog column is on Anderson and December on Beason. November mentions a planned sequel to Assemblers, for which there is plenty of room.
%A Kevin J. Anderson %A Doug Beason %T Assemblers of Infinity %J Analog Science Fiction and Fact %V 112 %N 11-14 %C Red Oak IA %D Sep. to Dec. 1992 %K nanotechnology %O magazine serial; US $2.50/issue %X alien nanomachines assemble artifact on the Moon