I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Advanced Heechee technology had enabled Robinette Broadhead to live after death as a machine-stored personality, enjoying his life by flitting along the wires from party to party with a host of other machine-people. But suddenly his decadent existence ends when an all powerful alien race intent on the utter destruction of all intelligent life reappears after eons of silence, and threatens the lives of all heechee and humans. Even Robin, virtually immortal and with unlimited access to millennia of accumulated data, cannot discover how to stop these aliens. It began to seem that only a face to face meeting could determine the future of the entire universe....
This is the book where we learn about the HeeChee. They cease to be a mystery and frankly, the people who meet them fail to be properly impressed, in my opinion. Real, live aliens with “wisdom” to impart and they can’t focus on that. Plus, we start to question the opinions of the HeeChee—are they right to be scared of the race that they call the Assassins or have they completely misinterpreted their actions?
I did think that Pohl’s use of the data fans as storage devices was rather prescient—very much like today’s USB devices to store information, photos or written words. Consider that the computers in use at the time were using floppy drives, something much more delicate and less than truly reliable. Any floppies existing in archives at this point are a nightmare for conservators, as you would have to locate the ancient technology of a computer with a floppy drive to extract the information (and assume that nothing has degraded). Anything that you really want to survive into the future? Print it out and preserve it. Paper is going to survive long after our technologies are as obsolete as floppy discs.
Also explored is the transfer of human consciousness to machines, as Robinette gets downloaded and struggles to learn how to interpret the world from that angle and how to express himself again. Pohl addresses a question of ownership—once your physical body is dead, is your disembodied intellect still considered legally alive? Or do you renounce your assets and projects to your heirs? The book doesn’t really get very far along exploring these questions, which will maybe get more treatment in the next book. I hope so. And I want to see what Pohl thinks will happen to such downloaded people—do they retain their humanity?
This is very much a transition book, moving from the demystifying of HeeChee technology to actual contact.
Book 200 of my science fiction and fantasy reading project.