Thursday, July 28, 2011

Camelot 30K by Robert L. Forward

I read everything I could get my hands on by Forward back a couple of decades ago. He was one of the hard hard SF writers; at the time he was a Senior Scientist at Hughes Research Center in Malibu, California. He was able to extrapolate some very interesting life forms and their cultures from theoretical physics, chemistry and biology and usually incorporate them into a good story line.

Far in the future, when the space program is nearly dead (shocking how quickly that's happened - this book was written in 1993), Earth scientists discover life on a planetoid near Pluto. They manage to scrape up enough billions of dollars to send out small research team via catapult, and the tale of what they find there is quite interesting. Forward doesn't spend a lot of time on the details of how the research team lives in their shelter, but just enough to keep it real.

However, the interesting thing is how they and we are slowly brought to the understanding of how life can survive and even thrive so far away from Sol. The creatures there are called keracks, and they mostly resemble giant prawns. They live a somewhat primitive existence, in some senses, with a culture that appears feudal. While they are ruled by a Queen and her princesses, with access and control via radio wave hive mind, they are also individually intelligent, and in the midst of their communal ways, show astounding creativity and curiousity about the world around them, especially in the person of Merlene, "wizard o'Camalor". She would be a scientist, if intelligent prawns existed in Earth culture.

The keracks have domesticated animals called heullers, which are also prawn-shaped, with the intelligence and utility of cattle; they are used as beasts of burden and food. A large portion of their male population train as knights, and love to do battle with other kerack cities on their planet, called Ice. They also make use of ice worms, which have the ability to extract all sorts of metals and minerals from the raw materials of Ice, and to deposit them selectively for the uses of the keracks.

Forward's hypothetical ideas about how the keracks are able to create heat and light, art and music, and build their cities, under a different set of physical constants, especially the near zero Kelvin temperatures, makes for fascinating reading. The whole Camelot thing is just peripheral to the tale, he probably just throws in some similarities to the mythical realm of King Arthur for the fun of it, but doesn't take it all too far - just some similarities in names, with Merlene, RexArt (the king), and Mordet, his knight. No Guinevere in this tale - it's tough to get romantic notions about a giant prawn. The only downfall to this novel is that Forward makes his moral point a bit ham-handedly in the end.

No comments: