I lent my lovely sister Veronica Core by Paul Preuss, but she didn’t make much headway and gave it back. I can certainly see why. The characters were entirely unsympathetic. The Hudder dynasty in particular consisted of four generations of indistinguishable, unemotional, unheroic men, two of whom (the designated heroes of the book) flounder through life in a series of flashbacks which break up what there is of a plot into tiny, useless pieces. The story was heavy on the science, but not in a way that enlightened the reader about oil-rigs or magma, or even what’s going on in the novel itself. Overall Core reminded me of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, though Preuss’ skill at painting scenes in technobabble cannot compare to KSR’s.

The currently-tanking movie “The Core” is supposed to be based on Core, but isn’t. First of all, the loss of the earth’s magnetic field is barely mentioned in Core - twice at the beginning and once at the end. A decade of missing magnetic field ought to have more noticable effects, but the only thing that interests the novel’s author is the big hole. The reader gets no dramatic scenes of falling bridges or Parthenons. In the book, no submersible is built to explore the magma - instead, the novel focuses on issues of patent law, politics, and international intrigue, with a side of bratty kids and the aforementioned flood of flashbacks.

The science behind Core is not as ludicrous as Hollywood has portrayed it. Much of the technobabble is devoted to issues in materials science that come up when trying to work with the astronomical pressure and heat of the Earth’s core. The secret to coring success is using a sci-fi substance named hudderite and some interesting bucky-footballs.

I wouldn’t recommend Core unless you know a bit about drilling for oil (I didn’t, and still don’t) and are unusually fascinated by the question, What is the deepest hole which may be dug into the earth? I hear the movie is even worse.

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