In the Ocean of Night by Gregory Benford

First, I want to tell you that I read good books too. It just happened that recently I wrote reviews of not the best ones. I will write about my five star reading experiences. I promise.

In the Ocean of Night (Galactic Center, #1)In the Ocean of Night by Gregory Benford

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Attention: spoilers ahead!

When I purchased this title I made a mistake: I didn’t check the date of the first publication. I listened to the audio book, which was published in 2012. Into one third of the story I started to suspect that the original book is older than my daughter, and later my suspicion was confirmed by mention of microfilms used in 2034. I should have known better to check the reviews more thoroughly before buying it. In the Ocean of Night was born in 1972. Almost as old as me. It’s not that I’m against old books, but I pick them only if I want to be nostalgic. Otherwise I prefer books of this century.

The story, however, started well, right into hard science fiction, astronauts discovering an alien artificial asteroid. Just what I wanted. But then the author made me jump fifteen years, to arrive into the daily life of the astronaut who made the first contact. The family setup was interesting, I must say, a blossoming triangle of a man and two woman, enjoying the threesome love-life. Besides that, a family drama unfolded in front of me, with the sadness of one of the partners having cancer. Oh, as a subplot, some slow development happened concerning an alien automated spaceship called Snark passing by. But not much.

The story seemed to speed up when the Snark started to communicate through a medical implant, and resurrected the said partner. I thought “yes, real science-fiction, finally”. It didn’t last long, though. The alien spaceship left the Solar system running from a missile. Why, of course the US government had to shoot at it, it’s standard Hollywood procedure.

Then there was the wreck of another alien spaceship on the moon, which almost caused the death of the character who stumbled in its shield by chance. Space accident. Fight for life. Good stuff. But then jump again, and now I was discovering the alien ship’s computer. Oh, the ship lowered its shield sometime in between, but I never learned how and why. Anyway, there was the promise of hard sci-fi again. But what I really got was description of dull images downloaded from the alien computer. Boring. I wondered why the scientists didn’t go exploring the ship. Yes, they told me that it was dangerous, and they had plenty of time, it wasn’t going anywhere. Serious? It was an alien ship, for god’s sake!

And then came Mr Itchino (I hope I spell it right after hearing), who went to play being a hermit in the woods on the hillside. But only after that I had to listen to all the wonders of singing birds and landscapes he was amazed of. Did I mention boring? After an agonizingly long time he finally learned about the secret of the mountain: Bigfoot existed. No kidding. Mr Grave saw them, they shot at him with their laser gun.

By this time I listened to the audiobook at x1.25 speed to get over it quicker. I still had my hope that there will be an amazing ending. False hopes.

Mr Walmsley suddenly was sucked into the alien computer, and the aliens told him everything he wanted to know, and he told me some of it. While chopping wood on the hill. For Mr Itchino. In an elevated mental state. All of these spiced with a high literature writing style, which was odd, because it didn’t match the previous part of the book.

I almost forgot to mention the religious sect of the New Sons. I’m still wondering what was the author’s purpose with them.

I found the cover copy misleading. In the Ocean of Night promised me so much, but definitely failed to deliver. John Scalzi would be able to write this story in thirty pages, and still find the room for a little sarcastic humour of his.

Some reviewers say that the next books in the series are better. I wouldn’t know. I won’t buy them. I go to listen to an Alastair Reynolds book instead.

View all my reviews

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4 thoughts on “In the Ocean of Night by Gregory Benford

  1. I think because the details are closer to the everyday life, which makes even the strangest stories more believable. “Old” sci-fi books predicted the technical advancement, and invented gadgets and everyday objects, which are in most cases different from the ones we use. It makes the story somehow out of place for me. For example, in this book, they use microfilms for storing images, and the modern digital storage possibility is nowhere to be seen. Just a small detail, but when I see several of them, it makes the book less credible.
    In this case the problem was that I didn’t know it in advance that the story was written in the seventies. Sometimes I pick up books like this, though I know it from the beginning, and I adjust my expectations. I do it with good books. Being written long time ago was the least of my problems with In the Ocean of Night.

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  2. “Less credible.” Bogus. The stories you are reading in the present are lacking just as much credence you just don’t know it yet. SF is not only about prediction. If something didn’t pan out it is not a slight on the author — especially since they are not necessarily trying to “predict.” They are trying to tell a good story, in an intriguing future, etc. That’s the aim — not some sociological claim that the future is knowable by extrapolation. Likewise, so much current SF deals with issues that are so close to magic (crazy singularities, moving planets, etc) that if you think about it’s just as wacky and ridiculous as a strange piece of technology that supposedly “will exist” in the future of 1998… So no, I think these types of arguments are the sign of a reader who is expecting SF to be some actual future predicting “science.”

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  3. If anyone writes a sci-fi story happening in the future, DOES predict the future within the frame of the story. This is the beauty of it. I enjoy those ones more, which are closer to the amazing evolution of technology we are experiencing. However, what I expect from sci-fi books is much-much more. As I wrote, this “old vs. new” issue was the least of my problems with this one.
    I’m sorry if I disappoint you, I checked out your blog, and I can see that you read a lot of “old” sci-fi (I mean it in a good sense). That’s fine. It means we like different books. Which is also fine.

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