Anvil of Stars
|Series||The Forge of God Series|
|Publisher||Warner Books, Inc.|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover & Paperback)|
|Preceded by||The Forge of God|
Anvil of Stars (1992) is a book by Greg Bear and a sequel to The Forge of God. In the novel, volunteers from among the children saved from the recently destroyed Earth are sent on a quest by a galactic faction called "The Benefactors" to find and destroy "The Killers," the civilization who sent the killer probes in the first place. The Benefactors' Law requires the "Destruction of all intelligences responsible for or associated with the manufacture of self-replicating and destructive devices." The book is written entirely from the point of view of a central character, Martin Gordon, who is the son of a central character in The Forge of God, Arthur Gordon.
There are two interwoven themes in the novel. The first is the cost of justice. Destroying the race that attempted to destroy humanity (and, it is later revealed, other races) appears to be a simple matter of retaliation. The Killers, when they are discovered, have formidable philosophical defenses in addition to their vast technological resources. They have created hundreds of sentient races, interlocked in a culture of breathtaking complexity and beauty. The representatives of this cooperative of races claim to not be aware of the Killers' true nature. The combined population of these races number into the trillions, all quite possibly innocents who must be murdered if the Law is to be carried out and the Killers destroyed.
The human and non-human characters in the book wrestle with this question of whether enacting the Law at such a cost is just, and the moral qualms nearly tear the crew apart in conflict.
Author Charles Stross has an alternate interpretation: "If you take Anvil of Stars at face value, it looks like a childish revenge fantasy. But Bear is a subtle writer, and when you start peeling away the layers you find that a very unpleasant tragedy (in the classical sense of the term) nestling inside a much more ambiguous story." 
Additionally, Bear explores the complementary theme of the moral compromises required to take and wield power. The children create a libertarian society aboard ship, with few rules and regulations. However, as the pressures of enacting the Law (doing the Job, as they call it) escalate, voluntary cooperation begins to break down. The leaders face the decision between allowing their crew continued freedom, which would result in the disintegration of the ship and abandonment of their purpose, or abandoning their libertarian ideals. Hans, the leader at the time, begins to take increasingly autocratic measures to coerce unity.
Bear does not take an explicit moral stance in the novel. Hans initiates the destruction of the system, innocents and all, without consulting with the crew. He is presented as dictatorial, ruthless, and possibly complicit in murder. After completion of the Job, he is overthrown during a violent confrontation between his supporters and Martin Gordon, son of Arthur Gordon in Forge of God, a former leader who was a focal point of dissent. Eventually, a third leader, Ariel, is chosen in place of Hans.
It is revealed once the system is destroyed that the Killers were in fact still in the system, and had continued to manufacture fleets of self-replicating machines to destroy alien races. However, while the Killers were destroyed and justice served, trillions of what were likely innocents had to die to accomplish this. Bear leaves the human crew torn between relief that their work is complete and their guilt that they were little better than those they had come to destroy.
The book is notable for how well it conveys the alienness and colossal scale of the alien home system, as well as the scope and morality of the final battle. The novel also contains a very original gestalt alien race referred to by the humans as 'Brothers', composed of non-sentient worm-like creatures (Cords) that join to form sentient individuals (Braids). The Brothers form a temporary alliance with the human crew, and the similarities and vast differences between the two races is one of the main elements of the novel's second half.
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