Strength of Stones – Greg Bear (1981)
‘They were built to hold the hopes of Mankind. They exposed only his folly…
In the deserts of God-Does-Battle the Cities stand alone, as beleaguered as the aspirations of Mankind. Those still alive are silent, like stars in a dying universe they await dust and decay. Yet within the living plasm of their fragmented structures an ancient programme works still, implanted by the human creators they cast out a thousand years ago. Before long, it is clear, the some of the Cities will fight extinction. And many of them will do battle in a quite unexpected way…’
Blurb from 1988 VGSF paperback edition
Bear’s early work shows much of the promise he was later to show in more accomplished work, and certainly in some of the themes.
Religion is a thread which runs through much of Bear’s work either as a minor theme or right upfront as in ‘Strength of Stones’
The planet God-Does-Battle was set up as a world where fundamentalist members of various faiths could exist apart from the sinners of the rest of the galaxy. Pearson, the founder, commissioned architect Robert Khan to design ‘living’ cities in which the colonists could pursue their individual religious callings. Khan, it appears, designed too well and the cities, sentient and programmed with the religious rules of their inhabitants, came to the conclusion that all their inhabitants were sinners and exiled them to the cruel surface of the world.
A thousand years or so later, the cities, which are capable of breaking themselves apart and moving, have become unstable are breaking down. Chasers – nomadic groups which follow the cities – cannibalise what they can of weaker cities while they are in motion.
The novel comprises of three sections, set in three different time periods although Jeshua and Thinner, who are cyborg mimics created by the city Mandala to observe human society, appear in the opening and closing sections.
From a modern perspective it seems a little naive that fundamentalist Muslims and Jews would choose to share the same planet with each other, let alone the Baptists, Gnostics and whatever else. However, it is a measure of Bear’s strength as a writer that he makes this rather far-fetched notion seem perfectly plausible.
It would appear that two sections of the novel were published separately as short stories and certainly the 1988 version has been revised.
It does, sadly, have the disjointed feel of a fix-up.