Weeding Womb

Creative Destruction

Creative Destruction by Edward M. Lerner. Hmm. An okay read, but "more of the same" - an old suspense film plot with more SF and less, er, suspense.

On the surface, this is the story of a man, top "xenotechnomist" (what an unwieldy word) at a powerful megacorporation, whose friend dies in an accident. The man soon learns that the accident wasn't very accidental at all and that his own company might be responsible. He then stumbles on a conspiracy by his bosses to gain unprecedented power and wealth through illicit technology, a conspiracy that is willing to kill to protect itself.

Stop me if you heard this one, right?

Basically, the story follows your standard suspense plot - hero gets letter (e-mail) from dead person which implicates Powerful People. Powerful People use various means to scare hero. Hero risks life against ever-increasing force, defeats villains in the last seconds before their plans come to fruition.

Except for that last part. Here, the hero never risks his life (he never seems in danger, even) and gets someone else to defeat the villains for him. He provides the ideas for the victory, but due to the interplanetary nature of the setting, he doesn't do it himself. Oh, and the victory is far from complete - while the megacorp doesn't win ultimate power, the whole world is plunged into economic crisis.

The real star of the show is the setting: Earth has made first contact with other lifeforms via radio waves (so there's a light-speed delay). Seems there's a handful of races out there, all of whom seem to be under one government each, and each race trades technology with the others.

The initial deluge of mature technologies - particularly a replacement for the internal combustion engine - throws the Earth's economy into turmoil. Once the smoke clears and the balance of power has changed entirely (oil is now nothing but a minor chemical feedstock), the UN steps in and takes over the tech ordering. Major companies each petition the UN to put in a request for certain technology. If the UN decides that the technology won't cripple the economy again, they do the asking and decide what to trade for it. The info is made public, so no one has a monopoly. Notable is that the UN refuses to ask for nanotechnology, due to the almost-certain side effect of a second massive economic upheaval. They also refuse to send one of the alien groups fusion technology, due to the powerful, seemingly weapons-grade, lasers it uses.

Into this world come a need for technomists, techno-economists. Their job is to predict future technologies and their effects on the market. A special group of these people are xenotechnomists, ones who work specifically to predict what the next alien tech influx is going to do, and how to make the most cash from it.

Every major company has one (and only one) xenotechnomist (no good abbreviation for this word, it seems) and a bunch of technomists. The UN seems to be the only group who employs more than one xenotechnomist, for reasons unknown and unelaborated.

(In case you haven't guessed, the evil megacorp is doing an end-run around the UN and directly trading the fusion tech for nanotech, which they'll then have a monopoly on. Evil is seemingly an unknown concept to the aliens, as they believe it when the megacorp claim to be a bunch of non-humans living on Europa.)

A somewhat interesting world, which the characters are sadly subordinate to; it's rather telling when entire pages of the story are devoted to expository dialogue (or monologue) that seems unnatural. When the main character and his parents (both retired UN xeno-project bigwigs) talk about the conspiracy, they spend a disturbing amount of time rehashing basic concepts for the edification of the reader. A father and son who worked in the same industry would never discuss something so simple as the mechanics of how radio signals are transferred from Alpha Centauri to here without excessive attenuation - for people who dealt with that all their lives, it should be a given. It would be like two surgeons talking about how to cut people open.

There's also a habit of writing paragraphs that are giant infodumps followed by a conclusion, phrased as a question. A primitive example of my own devising: "Water is, in all its forms, wet. Rain is water mixed with other chemicals. These chemicals do not alter the wetness of the water. Everything outside is wet. Could water have fallen from the sky and wet everything? Could it have... rained?"

Oh, and there's tech-talk that outright jars. Such as when the hero (Justin) and his father realize how the villains are going to keep Earth from catching the rapidly-incoming nanotech plan broadcast signal:

"Jamming," said his father.


"How many programmers does it take to change a light bulb?" Dad paused. "Can't be done - it's a hardware problem."

Not that Justin was a programmer anymore, or that anyone used light bulbs since Centaur ultrabright LEDs had been introduced twenty-some years ago. "What hardware problem?"

"I'm stretching a point. Orbital mechanics is the issue."

Not to say I'd write it better - since this guy has at least one more story published than I do he must be doing more right than I am - but let me show you how I'd write that one:

"Jamming," said his father. "Orbital mechanics is the issue."

We already know that Justin's an ex-programmer, a point which cropped up naturally when his connection to the dead woman was established, and several times afterwards. We also know there's a lot of fancy Alpha Centaurian technology around, the LEDs just being one more in a laundry list of fancy gizmos - completely superfluous and never mentioned again. And the joke, while cute, is painfully wedged in just to segue to the Centaur LED reference; so much so that even the character speaking it admits he's stretching the point. (Beyond breaking, it seems to me.) Thus, most of the dialogue above is either repetition or filler. Now imagine the same kind of repeat/filler/new info/filler/repeat writing going on for over 30 pages, less whatever it took to set up the plot initially. I know that some "filler" can build up suspense by making a person wait in wonderful agony for a conclusion, but there's no conclusion here. No suspense, either - for a megacorporation who has killed one person and suspects our hero of getting too close to the truth, they seem reluctant to ice the guy, even if it means getting caught and going to jail for a long time.

In the end, the story is a good time killer, if you're tolerant of the endless talkiness and don't mind being a bit disappointed by the ending and the general lack of suspense. If not, skip it.

The Archon

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