Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen


Fantasy / Science Fiction


Date Reviewed:

July 7, 2005

Heaven is a book with a lot of fun ideas presented about alien lifeforms. Cohen is a professional biologist and Stewart is a mathematician, they allow their imaginations to run unchecked in this book. Their universe is populated with as many lifeforms that could be crammed into these pages. The aliens they describe are pretty cool. These are not "Star Trek" aliens - humans with a rubber mask - the authors have genuinely original ideas, and those ideas make the book worth reading.

Unfortunately, the plot is weak. The story is not suspenseful nor compelling, the plot seems like a structure for presenting more new ideas. There is some deux ex machina stuff too - there is Precursor technology lying around the universe - indeed, our heroes are onboard a ship that has some of this Precursor technology - and at one point it conveniently transports our heroes thousands of light years outside the galaxy, but the whole point of this side excursion is that the authors wanted to toss out the idea of an intelligent galaxy. Once the idea of an intelligent galaxy is presented, the spaceship AI zips our heroes back into the action and the plot lurches forward.

The author's have come up with (yet another) interesting idea for existence - an entity can be discorporated (I forget what exact word they use - but it means that the entity is essentially split into it's component organs so that intelligent machines can monitor and repair all the systems, this greatly extends an individuals lifespan. Meanwhile, the entity consciousness is presented with a machine generated reality, sort of like the Matrix.) The human character in this novel, Samuel, reacts with horror at the thought of discorporate entities, even though the discorporate being can be reassembled at any time and return to reality, and the discorporated beings LIKE their artifical reality. Apparently, the authors expect the reader to react with the same horror that Samuel displayed.. But that was not my reaction - the authors want us to accept the idea of living ponds and galaxies as conscious entities, why should we not be equally open to the idea of discorporate individuals? Just because it sounds so gruesome and scary?

The planet No Moon is under siege from the church of Cosmic Unity. This is the home planet of intelligent reefs (another fun idea). Battle ensues. The reefs and their squid-like husbands resist with unexpected stoutness so the Cosmic Unity increases their firepower until the entire eco-system of No Moon is threatened. (Sort of like destroying a village in order to save it.) It looks like the book would build to an interest space opera climax, but the solution seemed too tame and abrupt to me. Sort of a letdown. I give this book three stars because of the imagination that is on display, but don't expect a great story.