Tuesday, March 17, 2015

So, I Read More McDevitt

    This one a post-apocalyptic number called Eternity Road.  Different story, same problems: good characters, smooth writing, okay plot -- and utterly no grasp of the failure modes or speed of decay of concrete and asphalt roads in a midwestern- and northeastern-U.S. climate.  Additionally, the characters have books (including a precious few ancient printed ones), jewelers and gunsmiths but not moveable type; they understand what concrete is (there's a trick or two to concrete and the secret has been found and lost many times in human history) and take it for granted.  And so on.  At one point, a character describes a steam engine -- all except for the actual engine!

     He doesn't know what he doesn't know.  If he's dealing with technology so advanced it might as well be magic, he does fine.  If he's dealing with primitive tech, he does fine.  Stick him in an 19th-Century machine shop or a 20th-Century electronics lab and he's lost.

     Well-written books if you're an English major.  If you want to read post-apocalypsos you can dance to, try Kim Stanley Robinson's The Wild Shore or Stewart's Earth Abides.  Andre Norton liked the general theme, too, and had a better eye for what lasts and what doesn't.


Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

That's actually a terrible McDevitt outing. I think it was an early work that was published only after he became successful with Ancient Shores and the Hutch books.

I read it, but I cringed most of the way through it.

Anonymous said...

But you miss the point. A steam engine is (as far as he is concerned) "technology so advanced it might as well be magic."

Anything more complicated than a hammer is magic to most people. Especially most literary-minded writers.

Most people don't know what a foundry is or how a casting is made, let alone how a steam engine would be put together from the ground up. A milling machine? That makes flour doesn't it?

Roberta X said...

I suppose KSR spoiled me.

markm said...

Or Doc Smith - in the first Lensman book, two people are stranded on an uninhabited planet and have to build a spaceship by first finding ore...

I thought that was a bit unrealistic in terms of the man-centuries required to prospect for ores, build blast-furnaces, make precision tools, find and drill for oil, etc., but Smith was a Chemical Engineer and actually understood every step in going from rocks, dirt, and oil to metal and rocket fuel. According to RA Heinlein, Smith knew quite a lot about shaping metal, too.

Windy Wilson said...

This summary reminds me of an entry that got honorable mention years ago in the Bulwer-Lytton Worst Opening Line for a Novel Contest in which a horse was described as running across a field, squatting on its haunches and scratching itself behind its ear with a rear leg.