Science Fiction

The Genesis Machine


The Genesis Machine, by James P. Hogan, New York: Ballantine, 1978, 299 pp., $1.75 paper.

There seem to be relatively few science fiction novels that deal with scientists per se and the trials and passions associated with pure research. Hogan's novel helps fill this void with an intimate look at the obstacles (in this case, government) that plague one Bradley Clifford, a physicist.

In a world of narrow-minded bureaucrats and an Orwellian international situation, it is refreshing to find an individualist like Clifford excited by the powers of his own mind and driven by a desire to know. Initially, Clifford, a delightful blend of John Galt and the funky (sometimes alcoholic) humanity of a Heinlein character, must sneak time away from his job as a researcher on laser weapons to work on his pet theory. Infuriated by the stupidity of the bureaucracy, Clifford quits and is soon accepted as a researcher by a private foundation.

Belatedly, the government realizes the value of Clifford's theory and, unable to progress on its own, systematically denies Clifford access to the hardware he needs. Cornered, Clifford decides to dance with the devil and allows the government to subsidize his efforts in exchange for a piece of the action. Woe it is that comes to the pugnacious autocrats who have frustrated Clifford's Einsteinian mentality. Rather than providing them with a new tool of belligerence, the genesis machine proves to be Clifford's ultimate solution to meddlesome statists.

Especially gratifying is the skill with which Hogan observes all the known laws of physical science and yet goes on to create a fantastic, but plausible, set of new physical laws. Equally pleasant is the skill with which Hogan communicates an essentially individualistic philosophy.

I say essentially, because Hogan does slip when he allows Aubrey Philipsz (correct spelling), Clifford's partner, to be persuaded by appeals for blind trust as Clifford is about to resolve World War III to his own satisfaction. Worse yet, Hogan suggests that the problem of international statism can be resolved by simply denying nuclear weapons to the power-mongers. Thus, the realism so painstakingly built up in the area of science is tarnished by a naive treatment of human nature.

But, all things considered, Hogan spins a good yarn. If you liked Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, you ought to like James P. Hogan's The Genesis Machine.