Earth by David Brin (1990) – At almost 600-pages, Earth has a lot of padding, but the basic story is good. Fifty years in the future, an unlucky scientist creates a molecule-sized black hole (to help a planet starving for energy). It ends up sinking to the middle of the Earth. When attempting to locate it to make sure it’s shrinking as predicted, he enlists the help of a Mori billionaire and his mentor, an older scientist. Albert, the younger scientist, is happy to see that – per calculations – his little black hole is dissolving. Unfortunately, he finds that a larger black hole is already down there and isn’t shrinking. Enlisting more colorful characters: his grandmother who created a planetary science and a religion, an astronaut who saw the space station her husband was on destroyed by a beam from the black hole, a street gang kid who works in one of the arks, another street kid who works on a floating city.
The arks are enclosed habitats for the animals rapidly disappearing from the face of the Earth. The floating city is home to malcontents who refuse to join countries where recycling is mandatory. Everywhere people are starving, breathing horrible air, and losing the battle against rising water levels. On one side, we have Albert, the astronaut, the grandmother, the mentor, the Mori, the ark kid, and various other people intent on destroying the black hole. Unfortunately, whenever they shoot a sensor at it, it destroys a city or a dam or an airplane. Still, they scatter across the globe to try and coerce the steadily increasing black hole into space before the Earth collapses like a balloon without any air.
On the other side is a US colonel, an engineer, his daughter, his hacker queen ex-wife, and every government on Earth who wants to use the black hole as a weapon and an excuse to blame someone, especially Albert. With the countdown to total collapse speeding up, Albert and the astronaut, escape the clutches of the colonel and try to destroy the black hole. The big news is that it’s been eating away at Earth’s core since the Siberian impact in the 1800s and has reached the threshold where it’s going to get really big really fast.
There are lots of texts from television and radio broadcasts scattered throughout the book, along with newspaper articles and scholarly scientific papers about the Earth’s evolution and crust. There are even illustrations and diagrams. None of which really added to the story but acted as chapter breaks. I’m not sure I like that. In fact, I skimmed most of them. The other big problem I had was the miniature font used whenever a conversation was being recalled from the past. It was very distracting, especially on those pages with several conversations. It made me nuts. Whoever thought that was a good idea needs to be sent out the airlock at the first opportunity.
In typical Brin fashion, there are some riveting scenes. The one where Albert and his lady astronaut make their way through underground caverns in the dark and almost drown was the most exciting thing I’ve read in a long time. When he’s almost strangled by his computer bag strap (underwater and in the dark), I held my breath the entire time. Albert is not a square-jawed, muscle-bound hero. He’s a lab rat carrying extra weight, undeserved guilt, and an inferiority complex. He’s unwilling to quit until that darn black hole is excised from his planet. At his side is the astronaut who has an uncanny sense of direction and can’t decide what is so appealing about the scientist who won’t stop no matter the odds.
The climax is a bit muddled. When you have a cast of thousands, it makes the climax very complicated. (I’m sure George R.R. Martin will discover that at the end of Game of Thrones if any of his characters survive.) For Brin, the over-abundance of characters makes the end seem very rushed. When the mad ex-hacker takes over the black hole with intentions of ridding the world of pesky humans, the grandmother becomes one with the internet and saves the world, and an alien appears to explain it all. See? Confusing. I did like the kid and his ark ending up on the moon though.
It’s an interesting dilemma solved by a bunch of heroes who band together to fight a common foe. Very good, and lengthy, stuff.
I wonder if he got paid by the word.