Benford, Gregory (Albert) 1941-
BENFORD, Gregory (Albert) 1941-
(Sterling Blake, a pseudonym)
PERSONAL: Born January 30, 1941, in Mobile, AL; son of James Alton (a colonel in the U.S. Army) and Mary Eloise (a teacher; maiden name, Nelson) Ben-ford; married Joan Abbe (an artist), August 26, 1967; children: Alyson Rhandra, Mark Gregory. Education: University of Oklahoma, B.S., 1963; University of California—San Diego, M.S., 1965, Ph.D., 1967.
CAREER: Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, Livermore, CA, fellow, 1967-69, research physicist, 1969-71, and consultant; University of California, Irvine, assistant professor, 1971-73, associate professor, 1973-79, professor of physics, 1979—. Former foreign correspondent, Frankfurt Zeitung (newspaper). Visiting fellow at Cambridge University, 1976 and 1979, Torino University, 1979, and MIT, 1992. Consultant to Department of Energy, Physics International Co., and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
MEMBER: Royal Astronomical Society, American Physical Society, Science Fiction Writers of America, Phi Beta Kappa.
AWARDS, HONORS: Woodrow Wilson fellowship, 1963-64; Nebula Award, Science Fiction Writers of America, 1974, for If the Stars Are Gods (with Gordon Eklund), and 1980, for Timescape; British Science Fiction Association Award, John W. Campbell Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, World Science Fiction Convention, and (Australian) Ditmar Award for International Long Fiction, all 1980, all for Timescape; SF Chronicle Award, 1997, for "Immersion"; United Nations Medal in Literature; grants from National Science Foundation, 1972-76, Office of Naval Research, 1975 and 1982, Army Research Organization, 1977-82, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, 1982, and California Space Office, 1984-85; Lord Foundation Award, 1995.
Jupiter Project (for children), Thomas Nelson (Nashville, TN), 1975, 2nd edition, 1980.
(With Gordon Eklund) If the Stars Are Gods (based on the authors' novella of the same title), Putnam (New York, NY), 1977.
(With Gordon Eklund) Find the Changeling, Dell (New York, NY), 1980.
(With William Rotsler) Shiva Descending, Avon (New York, NY), 1980.
Timescape, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1980.
Against Infinity, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1983.
Time's Rub, Cheap Street (New Castle, VA), 1984.
Artifact, Tor (New York, NY), 1985.
Of Space-Time and the River, Cheap Street (New Castle, VA), 1985.
In Alien Flesh, Tor (New York, NY), 1986.
(With David Brin) Heart of the Comet (for young adults), Bantam (New York, NY), 1986.
Great Sky River, Bantam (New York, NY), 1987.
(With others) Under the Wheel, Baen (New York, NY), 1987.
(With Arthur C. Clarke) Beyond the Fall of Night, Putnam (New York, NY), 1990.
Centigrade 233, Cheap Street (New Castle, VA), 1990.
(Under pseudonym Sterling Blake) Chiller, Bantam (New York, NY), 1993.
Foundation's Fear (continuation of Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" series), HarperPrism (New York, NY), 1997.
Cosm, Avon Eos (New York, NY), 1998.
The Martian Race, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Eater, Avon Eos (New York, NY), 2000.
Beyond Infinity, Aspect/Warner Books (New York, NY), 2004.
"GALACTIC CENTER SAGA" SERIES
In the Ocean of Night, Dial (New York, NY), 1977.
Across the Sea of Suns, Bantam (New York, NY), 1984, Warner (New York, NY), 2004.
Great Sky River, Bantam (New York, NY), 1987.
Tides of Light, Bantam (New York, NY), 1989.
Furious Gulf, Bantam (New York, NY), 1994.
Sailing Bright Eternity, Bantam (New York, NY), 1995.
EDITOR OF SPECULATIVE FICTION; ANTHOLOGIES
(With Martin H. Greenberg) Hitler Victorious: Eleven Stories of the German Victory in World War II, Berkley (New York, NY), 1987.
(With Martin H. Greenberg; and contributor of story, "We Could Do Worse") What Might Have Been? Volume I: Alternate Empires, Bantam Spectra (New York, NY), 1989.
(With Martin H. Greenberg) What Might Have Been? Volume II: Alternate Heroes, Bantam Spectra (New York, NY), 1990.
(With Martin H. Greenberg; also author of introduction) What Might Have Been? Volume IV: Alternate Americas, Bantam (New York, NY), 1992.
Far Futures, Tor (New York, NY), 1995.
(And author of introduction and notes, with George Zebrowski) Skylife: Space Habitats in Story and Science, Harcourt (New York, NY), 2000.
Matter's End (stories), Cheap Street (New Castle, VA), 1991, illustrated by Judy J. King, Bantam, 1994.
Deep Time: How Humanity Communicates across Millennia (nonfiction), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.
Worlds Vast and Various (stories), Avon Eos (New York, NY), 2000.
Immersion and Other Short Novels, Five Star (Waterville, ME), 2002.
Also author, with others, of Thread of Time, Amereon. Contributor to anthologies, including Again, Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1972; Universe 4, Random House (New York, NY), 1974, Universe 8, Doubleday, 1978, and Universe 9, Doubleday, 1979, all edited by Terry Carr; and New Dimensions, 5, edited by Robert Silverberg, Harper (New York, NY), 1975. Contributor of articles and stories to magazines, including Amazing, Analog, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Natural History, Omni, Science Fiction Age, and Smithsonian.
SIDELIGHTS: American astrophysicist and science fiction writer Gregory Benford "is one of the major talents to bring the science back into SF," averred Publishers Weekly contributor Rosemary Herbert. In fact, Benford's achievements in the field of physics, wrote Mark J. Lidman in the Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook, may overshadow his literary accomplishments. Benford holds a doctorate in theoretical physics and has done research on solid state physics, plasma physics, and high energy astrophysics, as well as astronomical research on the dynamics of pulsars, violent extragalactic events, and quasars. At the same time, his science fiction novels have earned him the respect of critics, fans, and his fellow writers, and "he has made no small achievement in writing since he took it up as a 'hobby' to distract himself from the pressures of studying for his doctorate in physics," Herbert related.
As a scientist, Lidman believed, Benford is "acutely aware of modern society's fascination with technology, but his novels also stress the negative aspects of living in a technological age. His works about alien contact have an appeal that is widespread . . . and his works which deal with science show us that we must learn to live intelligently in a technological world." The essayist stated that Benford's novels "are characterized by thoughtful composition and scientific expertise, and his work experience lends authenticity to his perspective on science."
Against Infinity is set on the immensely cold, frozen surface of Ganymede, one of Jupiter's moons, whose limited atmosphere is lethally poisonous to humans. A man and a boy must survive this savage environment in their hunt for an alien artifact called an "Aleph" that has ruled Ganymede for uncounted millennia. This immensely dangerous foe has blocked all efforts to terraform the planetoid and has the ability to enter and haunt human's dreams. For the boy, their hunt is a search to claim his manhood; for the man, it is a quest for enlightenment.
In the Voice Literary Supplement, Debra Rae Cohen listed Benford among those writers who "represent the idea of science as technology, of plot as problem solving. . . . SF has always been a forum for scientists to work out ideas that are unproven yet still right. . . . Benford and others . . . test interdisciplinary limits between fiction and science, not the limits of technology." For example, Fantasy Review contributor Gary K. Wolfe noted that Benford's Artifact, a thriller involving an archaeological find that has the potential to destroy the Earth, combines "enough nonstop action and international intrigue . . . to satisfy the most jaded Robert Ludlum fan" together with "the familiar Benford elements—a very believable and at times satirical portrayal of academic politics, a fully-realized near-future world which is kept discretely in the background . . . and a lot of real physics, carefully worked out and meticulously confined to a few plausible speculations." Like other reviewers, Wolfe observed that this attempt to crossbreed the science fiction novel and the international thriller yields "mixed results." Even so, maintained Gregory Feeley in a Los Angeles Times review, "It is the scientific side of Artifact that redeems the novel. . . . It is the subject matter and authority of the writer that intrigue, not the style of presentation." Writing in the Washington Post Book World, Feeley remarked, "As before, Benford effectively dramatizes the excitement and procedures of discovery, and his evocation of academic research, its protocols and rivalries, is impeccable."
Benford won the coveted Nebula Award in 1980 and the praise of reviewers with the novel Timescape. "Its protagonists are physicists deeply and obsessively involved in the entangled arduous pursuit of (relatively) pure knowledge," John Clute reported in the Times Literary Supplement. Benford closed the gap between science and fiction in the novel by narrating the scientific activities of two groups of physicists; one group, living in 1998, is desperately trying to communicate to scientists in the 1960s the message that will prevent the destruction of the Earth's ecosystem at the end of the twentieth century. The message consists of imaginary but plausible faster-than-light particles called tachyons sent in Morse code to a California physicist who is working with a substance that is "sensitive to tachyon bombardment," explained Clute. Washington Post Book World reviewer George R. R. Martin commented that Benford "makes research fully as intense and gripping as the events of any thriller, without compromising a whit, and manages the extremely difficult feat of conveying not only the meaning of his speculations in physics and cosmology, but the excitement as well. . . . Timescape is not only splendid science fiction, it is a thoroughly splendid novel."
Benford's 1986 novel Heart of the Comet, coauthored with David Brin, involves an attempt by humans to set up a colony on Halley's Comet when it makes a return trip back through our solar system. Plot complications include predatory aliens already in residence on the comet and conflicts on Earth between the Percells (genetically altered superhumans) and the Orthos (normal, non-modified humans) and their impact upon the struggling colonists.
Set 37,000 years in the future, Sailing Bright Eternity, the final novel of the popular, six-volume "Galactic Center Saga" series, sees the return of the twenty-first-century Earth's first starship voyager, Nigel Walmsley, protagonist of the first series installment, Ocean of Night. Walmsley returns to recount the most recent adventures inside the Esty to Toby Bishop, teen protagonist in Furious Gulf. The Esty is a haven of space-time existing near the galaxy's true center, just outside of a black hole. Bishop's family and fellow humans have been destroyed by the mechs, a machine-based life-form who now threaten to penetrate the Esty and decimate all remnants of human life. Aided by Toby and the surviving members of Toby's family, Walmsley is the only hope of stopping this impending threat to human existence.
In a Booklist review of Sailing Bright Eternity, Carl Hays asserted, "Benford makes up for his somewhat pedantic prose with a wealth of fascinating scientific speculations in a dazzling finish to one of the best hard-sf sagas ever written." And a Publishers Weekly reviewer praised, "This novel stands as a worthy conclusion to what now should be acknowledged as the most important and involving hard SF series yet written."
Published in 1997, Foundation's Fear is the first volume of "The Second Foundation Trilogy," a continuation of Isaac Asimov's famous "Foundation Trilogy" (1951-1953)—with the subsequent books written by David Brin and Greg Bear. The series is a prequel to the original books, and its primary goal is to reveal the career events of Hari Seldon, discoverer of psychohistory, prior to those previously detailed. In Foundation's Fear, Seldon is engaged in a project to slow and soften the impact when the dreaded inevitable occurs and the universe-spanning empire collapses, ushering in the Dark Ages that must surely follow in its wake. As the leading candidate for First Minister of the Empire, he attracts the animosity of rivals, but when the current emperor appoints him to the position, Seldon is thrown into a dangerous sphere of political intrigue and assassination plots. Seldon and his wife Dors—a humanlike robot—are forced to flee the whirlwind of court machinations of the imperial capital city on Trantor, experiencing a perilous adventure when their minds are transferred to the bodies of primates on a far-off, primitive planet. In the meantime, computer simulations of the dynamically opposite intelligences of Joan of Arc and Voltaire—the ultimately trusting versus the ultimately skeptical—assert their own freedom of action and uncover the destructive handiwork of aliens who themselves survive only as electronic memories—a potentially devastating computer virus. With the help of an elder statesman of the humaniform robot community, R. Daneel Olivaw, Seldon and Dors eventually return to Trantor.
Susan Hamburger, in a Library Journal review of Foundation's Fear, maintained that the author "makes the characters come alive." In Booklist, Roland Green stated, "The book continues, more successfully, Asimov's late efforts to reconcile the Foundation stories with his robot novels and also profits from the fact that Benford is a more visual writer than Asimov." And a Publishers Weekly critic lauded, "Benford . . . writes up to his usual high standard and excels in bringing Asimovian concepts . . . to vivid, visually compelling life."
The protagonist of Benford's next novel, Cosm, is Alicia Butterworth, a black female small-particle researching physicist from the University of California—Irvine, who is using the Brookhaven National Laboratory's Relativistic Ion Collider on Long Island in an attempt to recreate the conditions existing just prior to the theoretical Big Bang. During one of the collider runs, something goes haywire, and part of the machine explodes, leaving behind a strange artifact, a small, reflective metallic sphere floating amidst the wreckage. Butterworth steals the sphere, surreptitiously taking it back to Irvine, where she and her team of physicists and graduate students investigate the phenomenon and decide it is actually a space-time wormhole, a window into a miniature universe called a "cosm." This cosm is evolving at an infinitely faster rate than our own universe, giving Butterworth a unique vantage to a fast-forward play of the history of creation. Her theft of the sphere initiates an adventurous intrigue among academic, scientific, political, and religious circles, as they all struggle for control of the sphere.
In his Booklist review of Cosm, Eric Robbins noted that Benford has proven a "great favorite" of readers who are interested in the "techie," hard-science side of science fiction, and said that "his newest won't disappoint them." Likewise, a Publishers Weekly reviewer observed, "His novel depicts cutting-edge science the way it's actually done in the cluttered, fund-starved laboratories of a modern university. His highly believable characters have little in common with the unrealistic scientists of so much SF. They're complex human beings, each with a full array of strengths and weaknesses."
In the nonfiction work Deep Time: How Humanity Communicates across Millennia, Benford explores humankind's need to communicate with the inhabitants of the far future, in words—whether in books or as graffiti, such as the Greek mercenaries who carved their names onto Egyptian monuments, Lord Byron's carving his name into the Temple of Poseidon, or modern-day "taggers"—or artifacts and deeds—from the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World to modern monuments, tombs, and cathedrals. Benford discusses how we may accurately convey information over prolonged spans of time, even millions of years, to warn those denizens of the future about our other, current, long-time "messages," such as the disposal of nuclear waste, the threat posed by climatic changes, and extinction of the species.
Dayne Sherman, reviewing Deep Time for Library Journal, called the book "hearty and compelling," adding that Benford's work "elucidates some of the inherent problems humanity faces in communicating over the expanse of time." Moreover, a Publishers Weekly critic asserted that, "In his first foray into book-length nonfiction . . . Benford . . . combines a scientist's perspective and a novelist's imagination to produce a provocative and disturbing look into 'deep time.'"
Benford's The Martian Race is a near-future story set in the 2020s about astronaut Julia Barth and her Russian husband, Viktor. Financed by the Mars Consortium and its CEO, biotech-billionaire John Axelrod, they and their crew head for Mars in a race against a European-Chinese-backed expedition, struggling to reach the Red Planet first and return to Earth, in order to win the thirty billion dollar Mars Prize. The prize has been offered by the U.S. government following a launching pad disaster that destroyed NASA's dream of a manned flight to Mars, and in lieu of investing in the 450 billion dollar venture proposed by NASA as its replacement. Technical problems with their spaceship, interpersonal conflicts, and the hostile Martian environment all pose challenges to the crew's survival. During the span of their stay, Julia discovers evidence of the much-speculated and much-debated life on Mars.
In a Booklist review of The Martian Race, Roland Green averred, "Benford is as expert as ever at seamlessly melding characterization, technology, and narrative drive in an effective novel that takes its place near the front of the pack of Martian-yarn contenders." A Publishers Weekly reviewer similarly noted, "A practicing physicist, [Benford] writes plausible hard SF as well as anyone on the planet, and his portrait of Mars is among the most believable in recent genre literature. His strange and beautiful ecology is so well described, in fact, that most readers will hope to explore it further, in a sequel." And Jackie Cassada, writing in Library Journal, praised Benford as "one of the premier crafters of the genre."
The protagonist of Eater is Benjamin Knowlton, a Hawaii-based physicist who discovers a strange interstellar object many light years away in space. He first thinks his find is a gamma-ray burster—a black hole swallowing a star. Only thirteen hours later, a second burst is spotted, an extremely disconcerting fact, since, because of the vast distance between stars, the phenomenon should be physically impossible. Knowlton's old rival and competing theorist, British astronomer Kingsley Dart—who also once had an affair with Knowlton's ex-astronaut wife, Channing, now dying of cancer—inveigles his way into the investigation of this phenomenon. They learn that the object is a black hole only a few yards wide but with a mass approximately that of the Moon, and that it is currently entering the boundaries of the Earth's solar system. Further revelations show that this "Eater," which consumes everything it encounters, is an intelligent entity billions of years old, one that has destroyed entire civilizations in its travels. And Eater is now headed for Earth. When Eater begins communicating with Knowlton's team, his operation is taken over by the mysterious U Agency. When Eater starts detailing techniques for brain destruction so the contents of selected minds—including those of both Dart and Knowlton—can be downloaded for its assimilation, the U.S. government, thinking it can lay the blame on China if it fails in its mission, risks an abortive attempt to destroy Eater with nuclear missiles. Unfooled and undamaged, Eater devastates vast tracts of America in merciless retaliation. The brave Channing, near death from cancer, offers to pilot a reconnaissance probe to Eater in the hope she can help direct another, more successful strike against this threat to all humanity.
A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented on Eater, saying, "One of Benford's specialties is presenting science the way it's really done, and this is clearly the case here. . . . Full of astronomical pyrotechnics and the kind of intelligent verbal fencing that seems to go along with creative scientific thinking, this Benford novel should delight any serious reader of SF."
In Beyond Infinity, Benford expands his 1990 novella Beyond the Fall of Night. The story revolves around Cley, an "Original" human being on Earth who works for the "Supras," genetically and physically enhanced humans. A vengeful "trans-dimensional" creature called the "Malign" attacks Earth, killing all the Originals except Cley and most of the Supras. Aided by an alien helper called Seeker-After-Patterns, Cley flees Earth and the controlling Supras and sets out to find the reasons behind the Malign's attack in order to keep it from killing her.
In Library Journal, Jackie Cassada described Beyond Infinity as a "wildly imaginative coming-of-age story" with a "grounding in hard science." Benford, she noted, "writes clearly about space and time without forgetting the human perceptions that give those concepts meaning." A contributor to Kirkus Reviews took a less enthusiastic view of the novel, however, calling it "inexplicable except in terms of a deep-seated obsession," a book that "goes nowhere in particular." On a much more positive note, a Publishers Weekly critic dubbed Beyond Infinity a "dense, lively, far-future SF novel . . . that sweeps readers away in a taut adventure that examines humanity's role in steering the fate of the universe." "With its thoughtful extrapolation and mind-bending physics," the review continued, "this book reinforces Benford's position as one of today's foremost writers of hard SF."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Bridges to Science Fiction, Southern Illinois University Press (Carbondale, IL), 1981.
Carr, Terry, editor, Universe 6, Popular Library (New York, NY), 1976.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 52, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989.
Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook, 1982, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1983.
Platt, Charles, Dream Makers: The Uncommon People Who Write Science Fiction, Berkley Books (New York, NY), 1980.
Analog Science Fiction & Fact, November, 1985, p. 179; June, 1986; March, 1988, p. 178; March, 1995, Tom Easton, review of Furious Gulf, pp. 162-179; December, 1995, Tom Easton, review of Sailing Bright Eternity, pp. 181-189; June, 1998, review of Cosm, p. 132.
Booklist, March 15, 1985, p. 1010; October 15, 1987, p. 345; May 15, 1994, p. 1644; December 1, 1994, p. 657; August, 1995, Carl Hays, review of SailingBright Eternity, p. 1908; November 15, 1995, Carl Hays, review of Far Futures, p. 538; March 1, 1997, Roland Green, review of Foundation's Fear, p. 1114; January 1, 1998, Eric Robbins, review of Cosm, p. 785; November 1, 1999, Roland Green, review of The Martian Race, p. 512; March 1, 2000, Roland Green, review of Skylife, p. 1200.
Christian Science Monitor, May 16, 1986; February 9, 1988, p. 20; February 18, 1999, Frederick Pratter, review of Deep Time, p. 19.
Fantasy Review, September, 1985, p. 17; February, 1986; July, 1986.
Foundation, winter, 1977-1978.
Kirkus Reviews, February, 2004, review of Beyond Infinity, p. 113.
Library Journal, December, 1995, Jackie Cassada, review of Far Futures, p. 164; March 1, 1997, Susan Hamburger, review of Foundation's Fear, p. 93; March 15, 1997, p. 93; February 1, 1999, Dayne Sherman, review of Deep Time, p. 116; December, 1999, Jackie Cassada, review of The Martian Race, p. 192; February, 2004, Jackie Cassada, review of Beyond Infinity, p. 166.
Locus, April, 1991, p. 40; September, 1992, p. 13; October, 1992, p. 27; November, 1992, p. 53; August, 1994, p. 27.
Los Angeles Times, December 16, 1985; April 18, 1986.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 27, 1987, p. 11.
New York Times Book Review, January 27, 1977; March 27, 1977; November 25, 1984, p. 20; December 27, 1987, p. 11; August 14, 1994, p. 30; April 6, 1997, Gerald Jonas, review of Foundation's Fear, p. 24.
Publishers Weekly, May 23, 1986; July 4, 1994, p. 56; July 24, 1995, review of Sailing Bright Eternity, p. 52; November 6, 1995, review of Far Futures, p. 86; February 24, 1997, review of Foundation's Fear, pp. 67-68; December 8, 1997, review of Cosm, p. 59; January 4, 1999, review of Deep Time, p. 84; November 1, 1999, review of The Martian Race, p. 78; February 1, 2000, review of Eater, p. 69; February, 2004, review of Beyond Infinity, p. 63.
Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Review, September, 1983.
Science Fiction Chronicle, October, 1985, p. 42; June, 1986; July, 1986.
Science Fiction Review, August, 1984; August, 1985, p. 17; November, 1985, p. 23; February, 1986; May, 1986; June, 1986.
Times Literary Supplement, December 5, 1980.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), March 23, 1986.
Voice Literary Supplement, December, 1983.
Washington Post Book World, June 22, 1980; May 29, 1983; February 26, 1984; October 27, 1985, p. 6; March 23, 1986; October 25, 1988, p. 6.*