Book Article

SCI-FI 101: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE

EW reviews the latest in science fiction

THE BOY WHO WOULD LIVE FOREVER, Frederik Pohl

Young Stan and Estrella become the first modern humans to visit Galaxy's Core and make contact with the alien Heechee species, who are threatened by a human despot and a swarm of energy balls out to destroy all organic life. Big Idea The Heechee live inside a black hole where one day equals 40,000 on Earth. Science Fact ''I don't think you have any idea of what a supernova is like.... Back in 1054 the Chinese astrologers could see it in daylight for almost the whole month of July.'' Upshot Returning to his Gateway series after a 15-year hiatus, Pohl overlaps timelines, plots, and characters — and produces so many climaxes it becomes burdensome. B-

CRACHE, Mark Budz

A former missionary, a washed-up rock star, and a digital-drug-addicted genetic engineer look for ways to halt a computer virus that is infecting the ''ecotecture'' that keeps humans alive on both the Mymercia asteroid and Earth. Big Idea Molecular electronics, or molectronics, can convert binary code into RNA. Science Fact ''In the 1960s, [Herbert] Fröhlich postulated the existence of warm quantum phenomena in biological tissue.'' Upshot Budz loves wordplay and has an innate, pop-culture-savvy sense of humor (there is a character named L. Mariachi who passes an ''Xstream 2na sushi outlet''). But it ends up being a fine varnish on a fairly wooden story. B

EXULTANT, Stephen Baxter

Humans may finally win a centuries-long war with the cyber-insectoid Xeelee when a geeky inventor creates a black hole cannon. Big Idea With faster-than-light travel, pilots return from flight to meet an earlier copy of themselves — hence the dual protagonists in this book. Science Fact ''In the seventeenth century the German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz had imagined that reality was constructed from pseudo- objects that owed their existence solely to their relation to each other.'' Upshot In the second book of a planned trilogy, Baxter shows off his academic chops — he's an aeroengineer and mathematician — and his storytelling talent. B+

Originally posted Dec 03, 2004 Published in issue #795 Dec 03, 2004 Order article reprints