Review: "Far-Seer" by Robert J. Sawyer

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In the ancient battle between science and religion over how the universe works, I can't understand why religion hasn't just thrown in the towel already. If I were a boxer (well, ok, let's be honest here - a sumo wrestler) and I got my ass kicked every single match, it wouldn't take long for me to get the hint.

The earth is flat - wait, no, it's a sphere. The earth rests on the shoulders of Atlas (or on the back of an elephant, or on pillars.) No, actually, it rests on nothing. The stars do not travel across the firmament. The sun does not move around the earth. We are not at the center of the universe.

If this war waging were contained within the halls of academia, perhaps it wouldn't be so bad. But of course it hasn't been. Human history is littered with stories of people who have suffered and died in their attempts to end our ignorance.

Robert J. Sawyer's Far-Seer tells the story of Afsan, an apprentice astrologer who takes his first pilgrimage: a long and dangerous ocean voyage to find the face of god. Hungry and thirsty for knowledge, Afsan is blessed on this voyage. The ship's captain owns a far-seer; a new invention made of lenses and tubes that enables its user to see far off objects in great detail.

The night the captain loans him this wondrous device, he points it towards the planet Kevpel, looks into the eyepiece, and twists a knob on the side of the instrument to bring the little speck into focus.

And what he sees changes the world forever.

The Good: It is staggering for me to think that one person can discover a truth that, once revealed, transforms the way the entire world sees itself. In our world, we had Galileo. We had Einstein. In the world of Far-Seer, there is Afsan.

Afsan is a hero in an unconventional sense. He's not a great warrior, or soldier, or leader. He sits by himself, looks at the stars, makes his calculations, studies his charts, and then decides to fight the ignorance and superstition of his entire race. And he stays the course, even when the ignorant and the superstitious fight back.

There should be more stories of these kinds of heroes.

That's not to say this is a boring read. Far from it. There are dangerous hunts, rites of passage, a wicked battle with a sea monster, a riot or two, and a little sex thrown in to boot. It's fun for the whole family.

Oh, and one little detail I forgot to mention. Afsan is a dinosaur. The whole book is about talking dinosaurs. And that means the boot throwing sex is dinosaur boot throwing sex, which is worth the price of the book right there.

The Bad: The only quibble I have with the book is that once Afsan realizes that the face of god is not what everybody thinks it is, he goes through his crisis of faith pretty damn fast. He goes from "I have seen the face of god!" to "There is no God!" within the course of a single night. While I know a person's faith can be shaken in a day, I find it hard to buy that his or her entire belief system can turn 180 degrees in the course of one night. I'm sure it's happened before, but Afsan's change from "believer" to "skeptic" seemed rushed to me. To be honest, that's really more of a nit-pick than an actual complaint, but it bugged me some.

The Ugly: No ugly here. I'm feeling nothing but love for this book.

So once again, I'm pleased to recommend a work by one of my favorite authors. And I'm not ashamed to tell you that every once in a while, as I'm dancing skyclad under the light of the full moon, I look up to that great ball of green cheese and thank Sirius the Dog God that I came across Robert J. Sawyer's books. I haven't been let down yet.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Far-Seer by Robert J. Sawyer
Published by: Tor (May 1, 2004)
ISBN: 0765309742
Genre: Science Fiction
Author's Webpage: www.sfwriter.com

About Joe Murphy

Joe Murphy succumbed to leiomyosarcoma on April 1, 2007. The irony of this is not lost on any who knew him and laughed with him. He was the first “official” book reviewer for The Dragon Page Radio Talk Show, and after moving to Arizona, he became a frequent contributor to Cover to Cover, Wingin’ It, Slice of SciFi and co-host of Kick-Ass Mystic Ninjas.

He will be missed.