The Hercules Text won the Philip K Dick Special Award, presumably in 1986 when the book appears to have been published.  It’s a first contact novel, dealing with the mayhem that arises when US scientists pick up signals from a distant pulsar which initially just announce their presence, and then subsequently pour out a wealth of data. I quite enjoyed it, because the characters were reasonably well drawn (something which was not usual in 1980’s sf), and the effects that receiving such an advanced text had on scientists, bureaucrats, politicians and on the world in general were well thought out.
   But it wasn’t a stand-out novel for me, for three reasons:
   Firstly, I think it over-concentrated on the religious and political effects that receiving such data might have.  I think it might have been better to concentrate a little more on the mysteries of the Text itself, and focus a bit less on the non-scientific effects it was having.
   Secondly, and perhaps as a result of the first issue, I think the pace at which exciting discoveries were made by translating the Text wasn’t quite right.  It seemed to take ages to get as far as the Binomial Theorem, but then practically on the next page the ultimate mysteries of the universe were being solved. In reality I think this would have taken months if not years, so squashing the time frame down into a few weeks seemed unrealistic.
   And thirdly, there was a big to-do about whether or not to retain or destroy the “silver discs” on which the Text was recorded.  In the first place, even in the 1980’s, I’m sure multiple back-up copies would have been made and kept very securely. In the book, one person is able to get at the entire collection of the Text, and destroy it by turning on a magnetic device to wipe the disks. This seems unlikely. And in any case, are we suggesting that the distant race sending out the message from the pulsar only did it once?  Wouldn’t it be possible to tune in and get the Text on its next iteration?  Ths notion wasn’t even mentioned in the book.
   So in my opinion it isn’t a masterpiece.  But I enjoyed it as a bit of a blast from the past and, apart from the “silver disks” it was surprisingly future-proof.
add comment | read comments (0) 2011-10-21