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Probability Sun - Nancy Kress You know what I hate? When I bring a book with me, and only realize when I start reading it that it's the middle volume of a trilogy. It's really only fair that publishers but that info in a reasonably prominent place (or at least somewhere) on the cover.
Read it anyway, cause I didn't have anything else with me...
The book was ok for light entertainment, but not exceptional. A group of humans go to a planet inhabited by peaceful, pre-industrial natives. On this planet is a mysterious alien artifact which could be used as a powerful weapon in the war Earth is currently involved in. The complication is that the native culture depends on some kind of emanations from the artifact which give them a mild kind of telepathy that they refer to as "shared reality," which results in anti-social behavior giving them terrible headaches, meaning that everyone is cooperative and non-violent.
Of course, the military wants to take the artifact, regardless of its meaning to the natives.
Problems I had with it: all the characters were very "stock" - I didn't get a real sense of individuality from any of them. There were typical 'military types,' typical 'research scientist' types, and typical 'peaceful natives,' generic children, etc.
The physicist character was unconvincing as a brilliant scientist. He kept acting closed-minded to theories, and never came off as very smart. Too much of the "scientists are eccentric crazies" stereotype.
The artifact worked in such a simplistic way (pushing a series of buttons to activate a sensible series of settings) that it seemed ridiculous to have to have a physicist figure it out. From the observed behavior of the artifact, and even the clues provided by a prisoner-of-war, I wasn't convinced that a scientific breakthrough could have been made.
I saw no logical connection between the functions of the artifact and the effect that it had on the native population.
I didn't like the whole implied theory that punishment is the impetus for cooperative behavior, and that without the constant threat of punishment, individuals will commit whatever crimes they can think of, even in a society that has been peaceful for 50,000 years. In the scenario Kress proposes, I believe the confusion, fear, and chaos - but not the sudden shift toward violent crime. I believe that generally, people refrain from committing violent crimes simply because they aren't psychopaths, and don't have a strong urge to murder others randomly.