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Author Review

In the late '70s and early '80s James P Hogan wrote some great hard SF novels (and also short stories, in Judy-Lynn Del Rey's Stellar anthologies), and was on my "must read" list. In the late '80s he wandered off into political thrillers (The Proteus Operation, Endgame Enigma) and Libertarian polemic (The Mirror Maze), and I stopped reading him, disappointed to lose such a good author. But I've recently noticed that in the early '90s he seems to have come back SF, so I've got some catching up to do....

Books : reviews

James P. Hogan.
The Genesis Machine.
Del Rey. 1978

(read but not reviewed)

James P. Hogan.
The Two Faces of Tomorrow.
Del Rey. 1979

rating : 3 : worth reading

James P. Hogan.
Thrice Upon a Time.
Del Rey. 1980

rating : 3 : worth reading

James P. Hogan.
Voyage from Yesteryear.
Del Rey. 1982

rating : 2.5 : great stuff

Earth tries to re-establish control over a lost colony. The colonists, who have been raised in an unconventional manner, have other ideas.

James P. Hogan.
Minds, Machines & Evolution.
Baen. 1988

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 10 September 2000

A collection of Hogan's short stories, essays, and bibliographic details, originally published in 1988, this edition is a re-release by Baen in 1999, with various Afterwords, to accompany Rockets, Redheads and Revolution.


Till Death Us Do Part. 1980
Harry Stone needs to dispose of his wife, and his girlfriend Sandra comes up with the perfect method. But there's a catch.
Making Light. 1981
An amusing story of trying to Create the Universe in the presence of a bureaucracy.
Silver Shoes for a Princess. 1979
The first, and best, part of the expanded Star Child
Minds, Machines, and Evolution. 1981
(essay) Can machines ever think?
Assassin. 1978
"Paul Langley" is a dedicated revolutionary, come from Mars to assassinate a defector. But when he is captured, he finds out why the man defected, and the effect that will have on his own interrogation.
Inside Story. 1988
Why is the government covertly orchestrating protests against its own advanced technology?
Getting Here From There. 1988
(essay) Biographical details about early schooling, training as an Electrical Engineer, and the circumstances under which his first few books were written.
The Pacifist. 1988
Kunz has been sent back in time to assassinate Hitler. He is not the only one.
Discovering Hyperspace. 1988
Short essay on the genesis of The Genesis Machine
Fortune Cookie. 1988
Mankind finds his creator
More on Replication. 1988
Short essay on the genesis of The Code of the Lifemaker
Code of the Lifemaker: Prologue. 1988
How the robots evolved.
The Revealed Word of God. 1988
A nice little essay on what makes the science of evolution qualitatively different from creationism. [Rather spoilt by the Afterword, where Hogan explains he wanted to omit the story because he is now less convinced by the orthodox theory of evolution -- without noting that, of course, that does nothing to counter his original argument.]
How Long Should a Piece of String Be?. 1988
Short essay on the genesis of "Assassin"
Going Full-Time. 1988
Short essay on giving up the day job.
Neander-Tale. 1980
Og discovers fire, but his tribe aren't very impressed.
Known Nukes. 1988
Essay for nuclear power.
All in a Name. 1988
Maybe we should have named the trans-uranics differently?
Down to Earth. 1988
Newton and Galileo discover gravity in Pisa
Merry Gravmas. 1988
The hijacking of an old religion's celebrations.
Knowledge is a Mind-Altering Drug. 1988
Essay on doing research for writing
Earth Models --- On a Plate. 1988
(essay) Plate tectonics
Generation Gap. 1988
The young will always rebel against their elders.
Rules Within Rules. 1988
Godel's theorem applied to legislation
The Absolutely Foolproof Alibi. 1988
Gorfmann decides to use the newly invented time machine to commit the perfect murder. He obviously hasn't read enough SF...

James P. Hogan.
Mirror Maze.
Bantam. 1989

rating : 4.5 : passes the time
review : 24 February 1997

This is a future techno-thriller, rather than SF. (Well, it was when it was written -- set in the year 2000 with the Soviet Union still in existence, with flashbacks to the early 1990s -- it's now an alternate history techno-thriller.)

It's the turn of the millennium, and the new Constitutional party's candidate has just won the US Presidential election, with a promise to pass the 28th Amendment, that will separate government and free trade. Government's only function is to enforce the honouring of contracts, where necessary, between freely trading individuals. But the Big Money doesn't want this to happen, since it threatens their lucrative monopoly stranglehold, so they conspire to destroy the party.

This is Hogan's attempt to write a novel explaining the Libertarian philosophy. But, since the Libertarians have only just won the election, and haven't had time to do anything yet, it's all "tell" and no "show". The thriller part of it -- ordinary people fighting a major conspiracy -- is mildly engaging (especially the part where one of the characters is mistaken for a US security hotshot), but you have to plough through too much stodgy lecturing to get there. The flashback structure works quite well, helping to show how the various characters have ended up where they have. But there is a lot of explanation: of how free trade will work, of how a logical consequence is all drugs become legalised, of how government interference is A Bad Thing. Whenever I hear these arguments, I find it difficult to see how government spending on infrastructure -- like roads, the fire brigade, police, sewers, prisons,... -- could be reduced or abolished. These thing are never discussed, however: only free trade. Surely these can't all be funded from private insurance policies? What do you do with a thief or murderer in such a society?

I also suffered a major assault on my willing suspension of disbelief, over admittedly a very minor plot point. The main character's sister is murdered early on, and she finds a message on her answer-phone from her parents, desperately trying to contact her about this family tragedy. But she never calls them back, or contacts them in any way, even after the danger is past! I really felt for those parents...

James P. Hogan.
Out of Time.
Bantam. 1993

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 18 July 1999

Cop Joe Kopeksky has been assigned to discover why time is getting out of sync in New York. Why a cop? Because someone has come up with the idea that aliens from another dimension are stealing it -- which makes it larceny -- and the authorities are desperate enough to follow any lead, no matter how looney.

This is not a full blown novel, but a stand-alone novella (117 pages). So there is little time for any depth of plot twisting, and the characters are rather stereotyped. (In particular, the mannerisms of the Oirish priest, the German mad scientist, and the frumpy cop, are a bit much to take -- but the exposure of the psychic is entertaining.) The puzzle story investigation of the time lags is nicely done -- with the physics being plausibly info-dumped as explanations to the police -- and the sympathetic portrayal of the cops, the main scientist and the priest as they hunt for the answer makes for a pleasant light read.

James P. Hogan.
Realtime Interrupt.
Bantam. 1995

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 2 June 2010

Joe Corrigan wakes up in hospital, his memory in fragments, everything and everyone feeling strangely unreal. He gradually remembers his earlier life, as director of a large Virtual Reality project. But he is told the project was cancelled, and he suffered a breakdown.

Now, we as readers know what is going on, and not just because the backcover blurb gives it away. Face it, working on a VR project, then weird stuff happens, then everything seems a bit unreal -- what's not to get? But it takes Joe twelve subjective years, then someone else telling him, to realise. There's a good technical reason why it's then hard to get out (but the "back door" is blindingly obvious). That technical reason unfolds in flashbacks, setting up the original project, with loads of slightly stodgy info-dumping about the hardware and software technology. Some of this has stood the test of time surprisingly well (reading it 15 years after it was written). In fact, the main implausibility is how quickly some of this stuff happened: it is (coincidentally) set in 2010. In fact, the tech is thought out in enough detail that Hogan reuses something very like it in Bug Park.

The bits inside the VR are a well-done standard solopsist paranoid nightmare, done in everything from Heinlein's 1941 short story "They", and since carried on in plots like Tom Cool's Infectress and Secret Realms, and in films like The Truman Show, The Matrix, and eXistenZ. The main question is, as always, how do you know that you've really got out?

This is pleasingly Libertarian-lite. The main philosophical message is how you are not free if other people control the things that matter to you (here, things like prestige); the solution is to choose different things to matter.

James P. Hogan.
Paths to Otherwhere.
Baen. 1996

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 19 September 1999

According to the dedication, Hogan was inspired to write Paths to Otherwhere after spending an evening with David Deutsch, a proponent of Everett's Many Worlds interpretation of Quantum Mechanics.

Here, scientists in a rather unpleasant near-future world are working on harnessing the computational power of this multitude of parallel worlds to help the decision making process -- but they get more than they bargained for when they discover they can transfer a consciousness to any of its parallel analogues. The race is then on to see whether the Good Scientists or the Evil Government win a place in the Libertarian Paradise.

The Many Worlds science is handled nicely; it is a sort of "the thinking fan's Sliders". And in a pleasant burst of realism, the inevitable Libertarian society isn't painted as perfect -- some people there are still petty and mean -- it is just significantly nicer than the protagonists' world. (I'm a tad surprised about how recently that world split from ours -- apparently some time in the 1910s -- given the enormous global social attitude differences.)

Unfortunately the good points are spoilt by the rest. As well as using the plot to preach about his current dissatisfaction with the theory of evolution, Hogan makes some rather nasty racial comments (one might argue that these are not really racist, because some of the parallel worlds have the opposite problems, and some don't have them at all -- but he is making them about our world, or at least one very close to it -- that is, about the real world). And yet again, he seems unable to draw a female character who is both sympathetic and a scientist.

But I reserve my main dismay for the stupendous moral dilemma right at the centre of the plot -- about the rights of the person whose body another consciousness is transferred to -- which some of the main characters don't even notice until they have it explicitly brought to their attention, and even then don't seem to be to particularly worried by it.

James P. Hogan.
Bug Park.
Baen. 1997

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 19 July 1998

Eric Haber owns Neurodyne, a company making microminiaturised 'mecs', run using a Direct Neural Control form of VR. Neurodyne is working on scientific and engineering applications, but Eric's son Kevin has developed the idea of Bug Park, using the tiny mecs for entertainment, 'small game hunting' and adventure safaris. And when the competition start playing dirty, Kevin's expertise with the mecs becomes important.

The different effects of physics at the very small scale is quite well drawn, as is the VR control of the various walking, climbing and flying mecs. (The interface to the DNC technology does takes a bit of willing suspension of disbelief, however.) There are at least three different generations of mec size scales, with different properties, giving the feel that this is all part of a developing technology, not just a single super-gadget being built in a garage.

The plot feels more like a techno-thriller than SF (peppered with the occasional rather heavy handed paragraph of politics, taking swipes at all sides); the mecs and their controls are the only difference from today's technology. The mecs are central: they are the technology being fought over, and are also doing the fighting. And they are not 'magical' devices: their technological limitations are integrated into the plot -- they run out of power, have insufficient strength, can't always communicate when they want to. A couple of mecs are left strategically lying around early on in the plot, obviously to be used later, but I liked the way they didn't then magically 'save the day', but instead were just a small part of the entire jigsaw. The action takes a while to get going, but there are several twists, and the scenes where loads of mecs are fighting the baddies are fun.

James P. Hogan.
Star Child.
Baen. 1997

rating : 4.5 : passes the time
review : 8 December 1998

Taya has been raised alone by the robot Kort all her life on the ship Merkon. As her questions get more acute, Kort begins to tell her the whole truth. And then her life changes dramatically, as first she meets other ship children, then returns to the planet that first launched Merkon millennia ago.

I was disappointed by this curiously passionless story. It does have glimmers of some of Hogan's ideas, in particular, that children may need to be raised in rather special circumstances to be able to achieve full humanity. But there seem to be no really new ideas, themes or depth here.

We never get involved with any of the characters. This is partly due to the structure of four parts, focussing on four incidents in Taya's life from beginning to end (the first and best part, when she is 9, was originally published as the short story "Silver Shoes for a Princess" in 1979), and never getting involved. Also, some of the pseudo-Penrosian speculations on the reasons for the difference between robot and human consciousness, followed by the unnecessarily religious overtones of the ending, spoilt it for me. Hogan has written much better stories than this.

James P. Hogan.
Rockets, Redheads & Revolution.
Baen. 1999

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 18 July 1999

An entertaining collection of Hogan's short stories, biographical anecdotes, and some thought-provoking non-fiction libertarian articles.


Identity Crisis. 1981
Marty Hayes thinks his wife is cheating on him, and chooses an unusual disguise to follow her.
Paint Your Booster: Apollo - What Might Have Been. == Boom and Slump in Space. 1989
Hogan's take on the moon race -- and why the Apollo programme has been such a subsequent disaster for space travel in particular and the US in general. [It was strange reading this so near the 30th anniversary of the first moon landing -- on the one hand getting choked up again watching it all on TV again -- and on the other wondering if Hogan is right about why we are not there still.]
Zap Thy Neighbor. 1995
Gary Summers has inadvertently infuriated some very important people -- and that's a very deadly thing to have done in the world he lives in.
Madam Butterfly. 1997
A Japanese cleaning woman rescues a dying flower -- with vast consequences. [And what a brilliant title! Of course, Asimov did the story earlier, with his 1958 story "Spell My Name with an S" (aka "S as in Zebatinsky"), and would have jumped at the chance of such a good pun, had the terminology been invented back then.]
How They Got Me at Baycon. 1995
(bio) On how a little joke played on a convention gopher backfired.
Uprooting Again. 1999
(bio) On the background to several books (includes some slight spoilers)
Leapfrog. 1989
Edmund Halloran discovers the truth behind why the Soviets beat the Americans to Mars.
What Really Brought Down Communism?. 1999
(bio) On how Hogan brought down the Soviet Union single-handedly, and was paid $8.43 for it.
Last Ditch. 1992
How much advantage would a perfect chess computer give you?
Sorry About That. 1999
(bio) On living in Ireland
AIDS Heresy and the New Bishops. 1999
(non fiction, sort of) On the strange behaviour of AIDS and HIV, that seems to behave like no other disease. Maybe something is just a little wrong with the conventional explanation? For example, being "HIV positive" means having antibodies to HIV -- in any other disease, having the antibodies without having the disease means ... that you are resistant. [An explanation of this apparent anomaly is given in Perelson's article.]
Evolution Revisited. 1999
(non fiction) On why Hogan isn't such a fervent believer in the traditional theory of evolution as he used to be. [But some of his concerns would be addressed by a study of self-organising systems theory.]
Ozone Politics. 1993
(non fiction) On why the ozone hole seems to be more political than scientific.
Fact-Free Science. 1995
(non fiction) On safe levels of radiation; the ozone hole; AIDS and HIV.
Out of Time. 1993
Previously published as the stand alone novella Out of Time.

James P. Hogan.
Outward Bound.
Tor. 1999

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 9 July 2006

This is a "Jupiter Novel", a series inspired by the Heinlein coming-of-age juveniles. Trouble is, no-one else manages to preach as well as Heinlein.

Linc Marani is a 15-year-old street tough well on the way to becoming a hoodlum, when he winds up being offered a stark choice: a 5 year stint in a labour camp, or throw in his lot with an unknown organisation, preaching hard work, duty, and obligations. He reckons he has little to choose, so opts for the latter, and discovers himself in a training camp for those heading out towards a new libertarian paradise.

Actually, the preaching isn't as bad as some of Hogan's later work, and the plot rattles along relatively smoothly. if a tad too conveniently. There's talk of accepting everyone into this new order, of fitting society to people, and even a discussion of how this isn't incompatible with having thrown out many of the initial recruits. I'm not saying the reason holds water, but at least the seeming paradox is confronted, unlike a few of the problems in Hogan's other novels. All in all, a good second rate Heinleinesque juvenile.

James P. Hogan.
The Legend that was Earth.
Baen. 2000

James P. Hogan.
Cradle of Saturn.
Baen. 1999

I'm a die-hard hard SF fan. HSF has never been an especially large genre and to read any amount of it, I have had to develop a certain ability to forge my way through seemingly endless crap to get my HSF fix, which is why I was able to finish James Hogan's Cradle of Saturn. Hogan's grasp on certain aspects of physics has never been the firmest (The orbital mechanics in his first novel, Inherit the Stars are dodgy at best) but he used to turn out readable pulp, something one could happily read sitting in the back of an old van, listening to Ian and Sylvia 8-tracks. It's not uncommon for older writers to get fixated on one issue at the cost of their fiction or to suffer a general decline in their ability to write, perhaps due to age, illness or even burnout. Mr. Hogan has apparently fallen victim to both: he has become an ardent Velikovskyite and his prose has declined as well. This means that not only is the book filled with crack-pottery, it is filled with badly written crackpottery.

In Cradle of Saturn, the True History of the Solar System is the model Velikovsky proposed, as interpreted by Charles Ginenthal. The model the fusty old gradualist scientists are using is something like our current model, despite the information provided by a colony of scientists out by Saturn. That there may be bugs in the standard model becomes clear when Jupiter spits out a cosmic logey the size of Venus but modifying the astronomical models can't be done because it would threaten the careers of the elder astronomers and other Powers That Be.

Enter Landen Keene, a rocket scientist who has just helped build a stupendous atomic rocket, whose abilities are demonstrated as he flies rings around the new chemically power shuttles of the military. Keene falls in with the Kronians, the human colonists of the Saturnian moons. He realises that the standard model is flawed and throughout the book gradually deduces the Ginenthal model, with the help of the son of his love interest. All of the scientific deduction is written up scenes which reminded me of the wide-eyed enthusiasm of old utopian novels like Looking Backwards, where naifs from our time are available to have the utopian economic systems explained to them.

Speaking of Looking Backward, Hogan also has issues with the current economic set up, prefering, if one may judge by which society is successful, some sort of left-anarchist set-up where people work hard because they can, not for monetary rewards. It's a sad person who can only support eccentric views on only one topic and it is to Mr. Hogan's credit that he manages to hold unusual views in several fields at once.

Much of the book is taken up with the explanation of Ginenthal's model, complete with reduced felt-effect of gravity due to Earth's former proximity to Saturn, the casual discarding of considerable periods of history as counterfactual, new and heretofore unobserved electro-magnetic effects needed to make the planets do what the model requires, with a hint of a taste of guided evolution or so great cosmic designer. No flying feral chickens, though, whose lack made me a little sad.

To be a novel, it is generally considered desirable to have some kind of story and in this Hogan is entirely conventional. Sadly, the story is not very interesting, populated by characters who are flat even for this subgenre, even compared to previous work by Hogan. People expecting the opponents of Ginenthal's model to drawn with the light handed subtlety of a David Weber will be disappointed, I fear: the Sagan-equivelent only fails to be a melodrama villain due to his lack of a moustache to twirl. The adventure plot, as it become obvious most of the people on Earth are doomed and the hero tries to rescue his love plot token and her child, trudges along like a gut-shot doughboy, eventually stumbling to a conclusion. Thank God.

To be fair, the book does have the awful attraction of a traffic accident and seeing which of Ginenthal's claims would make it into the book almost compenstated for the tedium of the plot. This is not even the worst HSF novel I have ever read: that would be either Baxter's Titan or his Silverhair, both of which I have reviewed elsewhere, both of which are worth thumbing out one's eyes to avoid having to reread. Perhaps with practice Hogan might aspire to the true depths of awfulness which Baxter has conquered before him but for now, I would only be willing to break a limb to avoiding rereading Cradle of Saturn and not my own limb, either.

Recommended for insomniacs.

-- James Nicoll, rec.arts.sf.written, June 2000

James P. Hogan.
The Code of the Lifemaker.
Del Rey. 1983

(read but not reviewed)