The space eater by David Langford

Dave Langford’s only hard-sf novel to date is a tour de force of theoretical physics with the nastiest matter transmitter you will ever come across.

Matter transmitters in this universe have been proved possible; but not practicable. Their use affects nearby suns, making them go nova unless the MT gate is restricted in size – to 1.9 centimetres. Not very useful; but when a lost human colony is detected using MT technology, something has to be done.

The military of the time have (by and large) perfected the technology of regenerating damaged and destroyed bodies and alleviating many of the simpler forms of death. A desperate plan is hatched to a) send a sophisticated robot through a ‘mini-gate’ to build first a spaceship and then two regeneration tanks, then b) send a soldier and a psychic communications specialist through the gate to undertake a mission to persuade whoever is using MT at the other end to stop. And there is, of course, a Plan B…

The regeneration tanks are necessary because the only way to get a human being through a 1.9 centimetre aperture is to reduce them to a spinal column and as much cerebral cortex as can be spared…

The reality of getting to the colony and then making contact with the colonists takes up about half the book; the other half tells what happens then, the political manouevering, and the revelation of Earth’s final solution. Strange to relate, it has a diameter of about 1.9 centimetres…

The UK Arrow paperback has some unintentionally hilarious cover art, showing a spacesuited figure apparently doing ballet exercises with a giant glowing Malteser. Apparently, the artist had no idea how to show a mini black hole….

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