Larry Niven has a long history of successful collaborative fiction and The Goliath Stone is no exception. I expect, however, the reception of this novel will be mixed because the authors dared blaspheme one of today’s most sacred cows, but more on that later. Niven’s partner this time is Matthew Joseph Harrington whose work so far has largely consisted of stories in Niven’s Man-Kzin anthologies. In simplest terms, The Goliath Stone is humorous, libertarian, hard SF laced with references to science fiction stories, art, fandom, and authors – most prominently Robert Heinlein.
The plot and hard science elements revolve around nanotechnology. In a dystopian near future that is largely an extrapolation of today’s headlines, a private company attempts to use nanotechnology to retrieve an asteroid and bring it back to earth for harvesting. This is done as covertly as possible due to a bureaucratic and hostile political atmosphere. Something goes wrong. The nanobots behave in unanticipated ways and all contact with the nanobots is lost. The team responsible for the mission disbands and years later the principle scientist, Toby Glyer, finds himself administering illegal, nanotech, medical cures. Twenty-Five years after mission launch, the asteroid is discovered to be on a collision course with earth. The powers that be panic and send out DHS agents to bring in Glyer by whatever means necessary in order to avert disaster.
On the surface the plot sounds like a straightforward, hard SF thriller, and that is the impression I got when reading the description on the dust jacket. My initial thought was that I wasn’t going to be able to review this for Scide Splitters since it didn’t sound like it would have adequate humorous content. Fortunately for humor fans, the dust jacket doesn’t do the story justice. While the plot does maintain an intriguing progression that pulls the reader along, including a heavy dose of technical detail (the engineering and evolution of the nanobots will be particularly entertaining for hard SF fans), the tone of the story is light and comical rather than tense and suspenseful.
The light atmosphere of the story is cultivated through the main characters who engage in witty dialog poking fun at many of society’s problems from a libertarian perspective. These characters are also science fiction fans, prone to making frequent references to authors and their works. This is a story that loves science fiction and its fans. In that regard, there is a significant theme of homage running through the book. The characters themselves are Heinleinesque, complete with sexual proclivities any Heinlein fan will recognize, though nothing actually goes ‘spung.’
By now you are wondering when I am going to get back to that sacred cow, so here it is – global warming. If you are the sort of person whose blood pressure rises at the simple thought that some people don’t agree with current popular consensus, then it is possible that your zeal will interfere with your enjoyment of this book. A similar thing can be said if you have an uncontrollable loathing for libertarians. Or, you could try to remember that this is comedy and have a good time.
In the final analysis, The Goliath Stone is a funny book with an engaging plot and stimulating scientific speculation. There were quite a few places in the story where I burst out laughing, so it is rather easy for me to give it a wholehearted Scide Splitters endorsement.