Plowing the Dark
By Richard Powers
First Published: 2000
Review © 2009 by Stephen Roof
Genre: Modern Fiction, Literature, Science Fiction
Plowing the Dark by Richard Powers takes place in very nearly the present time. The first 150 pages of this novel spent too much time painting a too detailed background with too little happening. Usually, I’m patient with slow starting novels since well developed characters and background can yield a good payoff down the road. However, in this case I couldn’t develop much sympathy for the characters, and the scientific explanation of the development of an advanced virtual simulation environment became tedious and boring. Finally, at less that 200 pages, I decided it wasn’t even worth continuing with this book which is something I almost never do.
The only science fiction I encountered in this book was a project where researchers were attempting to create the most advanced virtual reality facility in the world, called the “Cavern”. The Cavern was being designed to be able to simulate almost anything with incredible accuracy and realism. The development of the Cavern was told in extreme detail with pages of explanation about the simulations, the virtual reality development work, and the science behind the simulations. The characters were reasonably well drawn but just weren’t very engaging.While the Cavern was being developed near Seattle, on the other side of the world, an English teacher was taken hostage by some Muslim fundamentalist. This story was told through the eyes of the hostage and seemed very realistic but was more than a little depressing. The narrative went back and forth between the Cavern project and the hostage story with neither story generating much interest. As I said earlier, I was not able to continue with the story to see if there was a payoff in the second half of the novel. I was surprised because the first novel I read from Richard Powers, The Gold Bug Variations was superb. Don’t waste your time reading Plowing the Dark.