Monday, January 21, 2013

The Web Between the Worlds: Review

The Web Between the Worlds by Charles Sheffield tells the story of Rob Merlin (misspelled as Merlyn on the back of the book).  Merlin is the best engineer who has ever lived.  He has designed a machine, called the "Spider," that can extrude graphite cables which enable him to build incredibly long bridges of great strength.  His work comes to the attention of "The King of Heaven"--a man by the name of Darius Regulo who nearly owns the space mining business.  Regulo doesn't like rockets.  He doesn't like the energy wasted in getting them out of Earth's atmosphere and he envisions a space elevator (or "Beanstalk") that will reach from Earth to a synchronous orbit in space.  A bridge to the stars that will allow materials to be transported to and from Earth without the expense of rocket launches.  He wants Merlin to adapt his Spiders for work in space and to extrude silicon cables which will be much stronger than the graphite used on Earth.

Merlin is intrigued and agrees.  While working on the project, he meets several people who make him think about his past.  Merlin is an orphan.  Both of his parents were scientists and they each died in accidents--his father in a lab fire and his mother in a plane crash--within a day of each other.  The more contact Merlin has with the people connected to Regulo, the more convinced he becomes that his parents were murdered.  But why? And who was responsible?

A reviewer on GoodReads has compared Sheffield to Robert Forward because of the amount of technical detail and hard science involved.  I a point.  It's been a long time since I read Forward's books, but I don't remember the scientific details boring me quite the way the space elevator details do in The Web Between the Worlds.  I found myself zoning out for several paragraphs in various portions of the book while Merlin and Regulo hashed out the details of the Beanstalk.  I just really didn't need to know all the ins and outs of cable strength and velocity and mass and whatnot.  Really.  I suppose it's because Sheffield was a physicist first (chief scientist of Earth Satellite Corporation for many years) and a story-teller second.  Unfortunately, it shows.  

The story is interesting enough and he sold me on the space elevator idea fairly quickly--but the characters could use a bit more fleshing out and the secondary story-line (the murder of Merlin's parents) would have benefited from more detail and direct action.  Most of what we learn about their deaths comes from research reports from Howard Anson, a man who runs an information service and tracks the answers down for Merlin. Three stars for a solid science fiction read.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The murdered parents sounds like by far the most interesting plot thread...too bad it's only secondary!