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The Oppenheimer Alternative by Robert J. Sawyer (book review).

June 2, 2020 | By | Reply More

Robert Sawyer is finally back writing. Yah! Oddly, his subject matter is Robert Oppenheimer and the build-up of his latest book, ‘The Oppenheimer Alternative’, uses Los Alamos and the Manhattan Project as his starting point before another catastrophe rears its head.

The pivotal change is after the nuclear bombing of two Japanese cities and their comparisons to the sun’s own fusion reactor and that it was going to explode within 80 years and wipe out Mercury and Venus and the probable annihilation of life on Earth and the Space Race hadn’t even started yet. The original scientific team determine what is needed if they are going to rescue mankind or some of it.

A lot of the story has parallels to real events, such as Oppenheimer finding his security clearance on all things atomic being removed because of earlier university communist leanings that a lot of students had in the day and he was head of the Project. However, considering early research by the scientific teams set up by Oppenheimer to prepare an exodus from the Earth was being kept secret even from the government in the early years. I’m almost expecting author Rob Sawyer to draw comparisons to the film ‘When Worlds Collide’ at some point, although he does mention some SF books and authors towards the end.

Some of the plans for propellant to get to Mars are thwarted by the International Nuclear Arms Treaty and the reveal that Mars is not suitable for colonisation after a fly-past. The ending is somewhat a spoiler although oddly Sawyer doesn’t explain how it was done or what Oppenheimer was supposed to do when he arrived in the past. In many respects, he was far too old to do this odd trip at the end and it appears this will have no effect on the future. After all, whatever is done on Earth won’t stop the Sun expanding in nuclear fission even if we started planning for mankind to flee later.

From a writing point-of-view, Sawyer captures the various scientists with their bickering and even familiar world-events and their impact as I remember them. Granted, his bibliography at the end certainly shows the amount of research involved. I think what nags me the most is switching from a pending apocalypse and back into events that affected Oppenheimer in the past and his determination to remedy it. So much for Earth’s future in this reality. It is also 5 years from the time estimated for the sun to expand. Maybe those who are hoping for a solution should be praying now than later.

GF Willmetts

May 2020

(pub: Caezik SF & Fantasy, 2020. 372 page enlarged paperback. Price: $16.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-64710-013-1)

check out website: www.caeziksf.com

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Category: Books, Scifi

About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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