Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Piers Anthony's "Macroscope" (novel, space opera): Snakes & ladders for star travel

Cover image of novel Macroscope by Piers Anthony
Going by the amount of praise it has received, you'll have to take my views with a pinch of salt. I found the later parts extremely tedious to wade through. Primarily because of many jarring diversions, most of which seem to be here to simply add pages rather than further the story. Early parts - about half the book or more - however, is very readable.

Story employs a variety of stock tropes, as you would expect in a space opera. There are a few things, however, that were new to me:
  1. To be able to take shock of 10g acceleration during interplanetary travel, you "liquify" the human traveler! For star travel, you further "gassify" the protoplasm to better prepare for bigger shocks. And for inter-galactic travel, you further transform the gas into a living radiation being (radiation idea is, of course, quite old.)
  2. An alien signal that hypnotizes the human receiver to use him as a zombie or interacts with him in an individual-specific way is quite old. Author, however, puts it to novel uses I'd not seen before.

Story summary.

A "macroscope" is two devices in one: a sort of infinite-resolution telescope with range across the galaxy; & a receiver of (alien) "broadcast" signals on various "macroscopic" bands. There are a variety of broadcasts available in aether, but two play a key role in the story:
  1. "Destroyer" fries the brains of anyone smart enough to comprehend the broadcast!
  2. "Traveler" seems to provide a lot of extremely useful information, provided you can get past "destroyer" (because "destroyer" signal is far too strong).
This story is of a quest - 4 individuals travel all over the galaxy, with the help of information provided by Traveler, to locate & disable the destroyer source. They'll eventually find the purposes of both destroyer & traveler, & get some enlightenment in the psychology of sentient beings.

Fact sheet.

First published: 1969.
Rating: B.
Nominated for Hugo Award 1970 in novels category.
Related: Stories of Piers Anthony.