I just finished a re-read of GREAT SKY RIVER, the third book of Gregory Benford’s GALACTIC CENTER novels. This is my favorite Benford series and my personal favorite of that series. I last read it when it was a new hardcover; now I am listening to it on an audiobook. The reader’s performance is only so-so but I can’t fault the story at all. It really holds up well, an action story that muses on human existence. And giant killer robots. And a Great Escape plot.. why the hell don’t they ever make *intelligent* summer genre movies out of material like Great Sky River? It would blow the socks off of the yawner comic book and horror movie pablum we are normally subjected to.
In case you are unfamiliar with Galactic Center, it is a story of humanity’s contact with a mechanical civilization located near Galactic Center. The first two books of the series set up the confrontation with Mech Culture; this novel moves time forward hundreds of years to a planet called Snowglade, which had been settled by humanity as a haven against the Mechs. Mech Culture hardly even acknowledges the existence of humans, considering them annoying pests when the higher order mechanical beings even think about them at all– but they have virtually wiped out humanity on Snowglade anyway. Great Sky River takes place years after the final bastions of the Human Clans (named after chess pieces, a nice touch) have fallen to mech assualt.
The POV character is Killeen, a leader of House Bishop, who are on the run away from the Mechs. This is a very different humanity than what we would recognize– as the Mech threat has grown, so has humanity’s need to adapt themselves to counter mech encroachment. So we now see great tall humans who can run ceaselessly with their mechanized boots and consult digital personality chips called Aspects which ride on their own personal network interface and sensor suite called a Sensorium. For most of the story Killeen and the rest of the Bishop Clan are on the run from a disturbing new kind of mech called The Mantis, which seems to have an agenda beyond Mechanoid pest control.
Benford invests a lot of effort and creativity into this series; one gets a sense of the different kinds of mechanoids- from the lower order Navvies to the middlin’ threat Crafters to the higher order Mantis Marauder class. Mechanoids are not homogenous, they fight amongst themselves and rebel against the higher order mech minds all the time. One gets a sense of history from the dialogue, a glum feeling of loss and regret as mankind muses on its impending extinction and fall from great heights.
I enjoy this series tremendously and find it worthy of another look, and a fast read. Highly recommended.
- FREE Audiobook – A Hunger for the Infinite: A Galactic Center Story by Gregory Benford (Narrated by Robin Sachs) (randomizeme.net)