Giant Robots, Greg Benford and the End of Humanity


Great Sky River (Galactic Center, #3)Great Sky River by Gregory Benford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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.

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Greg Benford at the 2008 University of Califor...

Greg Benford at the 2008 University of California, Riverside J. Lloyd Eaton Science Fiction Conference (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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4 responses to “Giant Robots, Greg Benford and the End of Humanity

  1. Glad you got the audio version; must listen to it myself…
    Someday may write some more Galactic Center stories, too. Much to say.

  2. Hey, Doctor B. Thanks for dropping by. The audio book version was an older “book for the blind” recording that appears to have been picked up by Audible, maybe? Hard to say, it was a library copy. Not the best narrator by a long shot but it is passable. It still references flipping cassettes. The same group produced Tides of Light. Must have been some time ago– I don’t recall ever seeing this in a store as a cassette based book.

  3. I look forward to more books in the Galactic Center. It’s a favorite of mine. I would like to learn more about the Mechanoid’s point of view, actually.