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Once upon a time, in an episode of "Happy Days", the Fonz jumped a motorcycle over a tank of sharks. As we now know, this was the point at which the series began its slow drift to cancellation, as storylines became more and more absurd. And a new phrase entered the critical lexicon: "Jumping The Shark" - the point at which you just know everything's going to get worse from now on...

James Hogan used to be a moderately entertaining mid-list writer of Analog-style hard SF. Sure, the characters made Gerry Anderson's puppets look animated, but there were good ideas behind the stories, and interesting extrapolations. If only that could be said for his latest novel, The Legend That Was Earth. Unfortunately this is the point where it's obvious his career has finally jumped that shark...

While Hogan's recent works have shown that his interests in Velikovsky's catastrophist creation theory have become a major influence on his writing, that's not really a problem for me - I can respect someone's deeply held views even if I disagree with them. Unfortunately Hogan seems to have let his proselytising get in the way of the story.

The Legend That Was Earth could have been a powerful anti-colonialism polemic, along the lines of William Barton's superb Acts of Conscience. Instead, its story of back door alien economic subversion of the Earth becomes a sub-Tom Clancy technothriller of the worst kind, with cardboard characters being put through the mincer of more and more dangerous situations (including the ridiculous scene of a military transport jet jumping the queue on a runway to avoid being attacked by an orbital maser beam - a scene that was done so much better in the alien invasion movie "Independence Day"...).

And while we follow the characters through the clockwork machinery of the plot we are preached at by the author, his didactic instincts overriding the story time and time again... Even David Gerrold's Chtorr novels at their most didactic, attempted some discourse with the reader. Here we're told that we're wrong and that's it, no chance of debate... I read books to be entertained, challenged, and educated - not patronised.

Thankfully my copy came as part of a $15 bundle of ebooks from the Baen.com web site. Otherwise, I know I would have felt cheated - as this is a book so poor that should never have been printed. And while I may argue with the catastrophist philosophies in the book, it's the poor story, the feeble politics and the ragged technothriller plot that really make me want to throw Hogan's book to the floor in disappointment. It's only the fact that I've been reading it on an expensive PDA that kept me from it...

Avoid this book at all costs, this is the sort of book that gives people completely the wrong idea about SF. What a pity that it came from the author of The Code Of The Lifemaker...

Comments

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rowanf
Aug. 14th, 2002 08:21 am (UTC)
James Hogan
I'm really sorry to hear this but not surprised. His work has been going downhill with every novel I've read. It is a shame, I really liked his early work (despite his need to stop from time to time to explain some bit of science). As he has felt the need to express his increasingly right-wing libertarian politics I have become less and less interested. And his wooden characters have become iron or something even less flexible and alive. :-(
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