Book Review: The Einstein Intersection

Normally I don’t set out reading goals like I do for sewing and skating.  Reading has always been fun, and I never want to make it feel like a task.  Last year, however, my friend took me to a Geek & Sundry panel at WonderCon (a comics/general nerdiness convention), wherein I found The Sword & Laser Podcast and online book club.  It was a sort of last minute, end of the year decision to start reading along with their book picks – I mean, my to-read pile is so large already I don’t need to add more – but I figured now that The Wheel of Time is finished, and I am (mostly) caught up on George R. R. Marten and Brandon Sanderson, it would be a good time to start hunting for new authors to obsess about.  I am really interested in reading some of their older book picks, but I thought it would be more fun to keep up with the current choices and discussions on their Goodreads forum.  The start of the year seemed as good a time as any to jump in, and the January pick is a rather short novel by award-winning science fiction author Samuel R. Delany, called The Einstein Intersection.

The Einstein Intersection is set far in the future on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where the humans have died out due to radiation from nuclear fall-out, and the planet has become inhabited by alien beings.  Their myths and culture are based on the scraps of stories and knowledge they find left behind by the planet’s former inhabitants, which leads to an interesting mixture of our present-day mythologies and popular culture (or, well, present-day for the mid-1960s).  It follows the adventures of Lo Lobey as he falls in love with a woman named Friza, and tries to rescue her from her death.  The story is an interesting blend of action, introspection, mythological quest, and cattle (well, dragon) herding western.

Upon finishing the book, I don’t know if I can say that I liked it, exactly.  There were quotes, phrases, and moments peppered throughout the text that I simply loved.  Poignant or poetic, there was a relatable, timeless feel to some of the writing.  However, there were other moments that felt forced, odd, or confusing, and the author including some of his personal notes in the text threw me out of the story somewhat.  By making allusions to mythology and well know cultural icons, the ending of the story didn’t feel surprising, but somehow it also didn’t feel earned.  I felt as though the characters in the story didn’t have quite the emotional arc necessary to connect all the dots in a satisfying way.

I thought the book handled the topic of genetic mutations and environmental adaptability in a fascinating way.  The alien culture is obsessed with genetics and creating functional beings.  It isn’t quite clear if their problems have to do with residual radiation or the fact that they were never really meant to inhabit the Earth, but I think either interpretation provides an interesting warning to those reading the story – especially in the context of the Cold War and the Space Race.  Much of today’s science is focused on mapping genes and discovering how they trigger developmental issues or chronic diseases, so I feel that much of the discussion on beneficial mutations and “functional vs. non-functional” beings actually still has great relevance today.  I don’t know that I was as enthralled with the story’s exploration of metaphysics – it felt a bit info-dumpy at the end, rather than using principles from the works of Einstein and Gödel to explain events in the story.

Overall I have to say that the book was surprisingly thought provoking, for all that I may not have found it completely enjoyable.  I read through it rather quickly, mostly because I was really interested to see where it was going, and I think that may have had something to do with my disappointment at the ending.  The story itself didn’t feel fully flushed out, especially when compared with more modern writing, but some of the concepts and ideas presented in the novel still have significance in today’s world, and I find myself thinking about the book even a few weeks after I have finished reading it.  I don’t know that I would necessarily recommend this book – it definitely isn’t something that everyone would enjoy – but the book is a quick read and covers some interesting topics.  If you want something a bit more thought provoking or a bit “out there” in terms of writing style, then this might be a fun book for you to try.  Otherwise you might want to stick with options already stacked up in your book stash.

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