The Prometheus Project

Reviewer: Jake Beal

Author: Steve White

Published: 2005

Reviewed: 2005-12-28

Publisher: Baen

It's sad when a book doesn't live up to its potential. Mr. White lays
out a universe filled with mesmerizing possibility, in which
insignificant humanity learns almost too late that the stars have
already been claimed, and must maintain a bluff that humanity has high
technology while at the same time keeping the aliens secret from the
bulk of humanity. It's a grand idea, with a grand title, "The
Prometheus Project", well capturing the scheme of bootstrapping the
human race to god-like power with stolen technology.

Unfortunately, Mr. White doesn't know a good thing when he sees it and
throws it all away on a story which, while interesting, is ultimately
rather trite. One gets the sense that the complexity of his world was
just too much for him and he resorted to simplifying the story into
Good Guys and Bad Guys with deus ex machina to fill in the gaps.

The main character, Bob, is as dumb as an early Heinlein hero: always
intuitively correct in his thuggish decisions and refusal to explain
or take precautions, but completely bereft of insight and deductive
logic with regards to the society and technology he's dealing with.
He just blunders around and at appropriate points somebody whips off
another blinder and reveals the next Gotcha! in the plot. I found it
fatiguing at best.

And then there's the little things that get me. Like the tragic
relationship which cannot be consummated because there's no human
birth control technology nearby and the woman doesn't want to become
pregnant. Pardon my descent into sordid trivia, but there's many more
options to allow sex without pregnancy than contraceptive drugs and
abortion, though those two are the only ones that occur to the
characters during their years of romantically angstful courtship. Or
the fact that after a long interlude in the action, the characters
have a discussion that makes Bob predict an eventual disaster that
then immediately happens. Or the fact that the story is being told in
the context of briefing a stereotyped liberal president, who in the
end runs away screaming tinfoil hat things about the Trilateral
Commission (!?) and has to be assassinated for the Greater Good. And
no, I don't consider that a spoiler: it's not really part of the
story, just an inept frame in which to tell it.

I couldn't help wondering how David Brin would have told the story
instead. His Earthclan Novels also deal with insignificant humans
thrust into an already-settled universe, but for all the faults I
lament in his stories, they are never trite.

In the end, the book fails in a rather classic way. Rather than
telling a story or developing characters, Mr. White relies on an
ever-increasing series of revelations, where the characters are
content to walk their predestined path while being told, "you are not
yet ready for that knowledge" and "all will become clear in time".
Maybe some people like it, but to me it just felt lazy, the mark of an
author who's found an idea for a plot but failed to turn it into a