Posted by : atcampbell | On : May 7, 2002

Wheelers by Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen

Fifteen people attended this meeting, which was held at the home of Judy Strange and Jeff Hurst. Our topic was Wheelers, a first novel by British scientists Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen. The authors were previously best known in the SF community for their contributions to The Science of Discworld with Terry Pratchett. The story of Wheelers starts in the 23rd century when maverick archaeologist Prudence Odingo discovers alien artifacts on one of the moons of Jupiter. Returning to Earth to report her find, she quickly gets involved in a turf war with rival “respectable” scientists trying to usurp her discovery. Eventually the rivalry subsides when an alien threat to Earth arises, and a solar-system-wide effort is made to save the human race. Everyone at the meeting had at least started the book, and all but two had finished it.

We thought this book was brimming with cool ideas: nifty alien devices, space travel by throwing rocks, monks in outer space, political factions within the alien invaders, and more. The world of science was vividly described, with an insider’s insight into academic politics. The scientist characters seemed like believable researchers, and their interactions with each other and with their families were interesting.

About half our group enjoyed this book a lot and considered it a success for its creativity, characters, and pacing. The rest of the group simply found this was not the type of book they expected or wanted to read. Those who disliked Wheelers complained about boring social commentary, excessive infodumps, too many plot threads, and obnoxious characters.

While we came to no consensus about the merits of Wheelers, we did have an interesting discussion. After the meeting we had dinner at Baby Acapulco’s.

–A. T. Campbell, III