Allen, Roger MacBride

Tagged: Author

(1957-    ) US author who began writing with the Torch Space-Opera series, The Torch of Honor (1985) and Rogue Powers (1986) – both assembled as Allies and Aliens (omni, rev 1995) – whose considerable impact may seem excessive to anyone familiar only with the books in synopsis, as neither might have appeared to offer anything new. The Torch of Honor begins with a scene all too evocative of Robert A Heinlein's sf juveniles from three decades earlier, as a batch of space cadets graduates from academy into interstellar hot water after learning – in a scene which any viewer of John Ford's Cavalry Westerns would also recognize – of the death of many of their fellows in a space encounter. But Allen, while clearly making no secret of his allegiance to nostalgia-inducing narrative conventions, remained very much a writer of the 1980s in the physical complexity and moral dubiety of the galaxy his crew enters, fighting and judging and having a fairly good time in the task of saving planets. The second novel, which features a no-nonsense female protagonist and a lovingly described Alien culture, builds on the strengths of the first while disengaging to some degree from the debilitating simplicities of military sf.

Orphan of Creation (1988; vt Orphan of Creation: Contact with the Human Past 2000), a singleton, demonstrates with greater clarity than the series the clarity and scientific numeracy of Allen's mind and narrative strategies. The story of a black anthropologist who discovers in the USA the bones of some Australopithecines who had been transported there by slave traders, the novel gives an impressive accounting of the nature of Anthropology as a science, and mounts a welcome attack on the strange contemporary vogue for Creationism. Farside Cannon (1988), in which the Near-Future solar system witnesses political upheaval on time-tested grounds, and The War Machine (1989) with David A Drake, part of the latter's Crisis of Empire sequence, were sufficiently competent to keep interest in Allen alive. Supernova (1991), with Eric Kotani, relates, again with scientific verisimilitude, the process involved in discovering that a nearby star is due to go supernova and flood Earth with hard radiation. The Modular Man (February-May 1992 Analog; 1992) deals with the implications of a Robot technology sufficiently advanced for humans to Upload their consciousnesses into machines; the story combines farce – humans download themselves into vacuum cleaners to obtain Immortality – and courtroom pathos, as a paraplegic lawyer defends a case via Avatar but dies anyway. Isaac Asimov's Caliban (1993), an authorized Sequel by Other Hands, rings further changes on Isaac Asimov's use of plots driven by the Laws of Robotics.

Potentially more interesting than any of these titles is the Hunted Earth sequence, comprising The Ring of Charon (1990) and The Shattered Sphere (1993). After the passing of a beam of phased gravity-waves – a new human invention – has awakened a long dormant semi-autonomous being embedded deep within the Moon, the Earth is shunted via Wormhole to a new solar system dominated by a multifaceted culture occupying a Dyson Sphere. The remnants of humanity must work out – over the course of the second volume – where Earth is while countering, or coming to terms with, the attempted demolition of the solar system to make a new sphere. Although the human cultures described in the first volume are unimaginatively presented, the exuberance of Allen's large-scale plotting (and thinking) made Hunted Earth one of the touchstone galactic epics of the early 1990s, though it did not prefigure the more daunting complexities of work by writers like Dan Simmons. Indeed, some sense that Allen had lost some interest in the more challenging implications of the Space Opera form he had honourably contributed to may be seen in a succession of Ties [see Checklist below] which occupied much of his time in the 1990s. A more recent series – the Chronicles of Solace sequence comprising The Depths of Time (2000), The Ocean of Years (2002) and The Shores of Tomorrow (2003) – does, however, show signs of renewed engagement, though the cosmogonic perplexities of writers like Dan Simmons or Peter F Hamilton tend to be substituted for here by perplexities of storytelling not justified by any depth in the portrayal of character. The Solace universe, a galactic venue thousands of years hence, is complicated rather than complex, riven by Time-Travel reverse-turns, as the various protagonists attempt to find (and to utilize the skills of) the fleeing Trickster villain, whose Terraforming of numerous planets has proved ultimately unsustainable (there may be hints here of a comment on twenty-first-century environmental issues), but who may have some answer to the looming galaxy-wide disaster. The BSI sequence – comprising BSI: Starside: The Cause of Death (2006), BSI: Starside: Death Sentence (2007) and BSI: Starside: Final Inquiries (2008) – in which the Bureau of Special Investigations solves complex problems in the Far Future, is less ambitious. [JC]

see also: Asteroids; Black Holes; Moon; Outer Planets; Weapons.

Roger MacBride Allen

born Bridgeport, Connecticut: 26 September 1957

died

works

series

Torch

Hunted Earth

Asimov

Star Wars

Chronicles of Solace

BSI: Starside

individual titles

links

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