37. Eon by Greg Bear
Eon is a quirky book of epic proportion. On the cover, the Washington Post is quoted, "Eon may be the best constructed hard SF epic yet." While I'm not sure I can agree with Dune in mind, Eon is definitely hard SF that still remains likable, understandable, relatable to us non-math/tech/science people who still enjoy sci fi. In its scope and weirdness, it reminded me of Neuromancer, a book I tried to read a year and a half or so ago, but it was just too immersed in its own strange reality for me to get into.
Like many SF writers, Bear uses short, direct, and sometimes clunky sentences to describe his characters and his world. Few of the characters are fully fleshed out, even the main characters seemed stock-ish to me. Brilliant young woman, hardened administrator, disaffected Russian, etc. However, what makes this book crackle is the plot and the ideas behind it. Bear's imagined futuristic human society is also fascinating and creative.
The readers enter a world on the brink of nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. A mysterious asteroid enters Earth's orbit, and NATO organizes a team to investigate. Rumours abound about the wonders found within, but it's all kept top secret, and the Russians are only allowed to participate after four years. Our main characters are the hardened administrator who is charged with the deepest of secrets, Lanier, our young ingenue, Patricia Luisa Vasquez, our Russian dreaming of the stars, Mirsky, and our futuristic new world guide, Olmy. I wouldn't be giving much away if I say that nuclear war does break out and that our heroes, with Olmy's help, will have to contend with the futuristic society somewhere inside the Stone, as they call the asteroid.
This is a novel about the endless possibilities of the universe and the endless varieties of how humanity can divide itself. Bear, instead of going utopian or dystopian, accepts humanity and its divisions and shows how if we truly accept each other, we let each other go our separate ways. I don't know if that message is his definitive answer to the Cold War, but that's what I got from it. Please read Eon if you love SF, and especially if you're a physics geek, I think you'll really get a kick out of it. But if you're not, never fear, it's still an enjoyable ride.