enhanced] DD-B

Book Note: David R. Palmer, Special Education: To Halt Armageddon

I read this book about 12-Aug-2021. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 2004. This note was last modified Sunday, 11-Dec-2022 15:30:00 PST.

This is book 2 of the "Threshold" series.

This note contains spoilers for the book.


The title on the cover and in some of the online material is rendered as Spēcial Education: To Halt Armageddon, but that doesn't work in the TITLE HTML element. Doesn't work very well in italics here, either, the 'e' with macron ends up much smaller than the other letters.

This sequel was 20 years in the making. The original book sank without a trace, as I saw it (with discussions with many friends) back in 1986. We all loved Emergence (#2), we did not love Threshold. (I don't of course know how well it sold, and Palmer has said that he got writer's block and was unable to write the sequel for a long time. We all assumed, back then, and before he had spoken publicly on the subject, that it sold so badly that the publisher aborted the series, but I have no idea if that's true.) Anyway, he has now written and published (and not self-published; this one is from Eric Flint's Ring of Fire press) sequels to his two initial 1980s books, and I enjoyed the first and am so far enjoying the second.

We get to meet the other side of the breeding experiment (which, unlike that of the Arisians, had a bit of a glitch, and the penultimates aren't quite properly matched in age).

So we have another secret financial empire run by a minor child (Jennifer is 8). In addition to that, she's qualified educationally but not legally as both doctor and lawyer (remember, it's her side of the breeding project that's smart; Peter's side is fast-acting and physically practical). What we know about brain development rather suggests she can't be as mature as she is here; but of course we don't know how unusual her physiology really is. Unlike in the Lensman series we don't have a claim that their immediate descendants will be flat-out super-human.

I'm worried about this perfect lie detector. Won't it make it easy to figure out that their front-person doctor saint (Jen's grandmother) doesn't in fact understand the cures she's presenting? Or is in other ways not telling the full story? Maybe Jen will manage to explain the cures by then; but can the world survive knowing where they come from? (Though that's more of a Doc Smith concern.) These people are supposed to be smart, they should see this coming. But then they've come at least close to missing many other things this big already. But anybody who asks, even jokingly, if there are aliens, maybe even if they are working primarily for the benefit of humanity will get a shock. They should avoid tabloid journalists!

Amusingly, two of the cures come from worlds that Peter described by their James White (Sector General series) species codes (DBLF and DBDG; which in turn probably owe something to Smith's use of strings of letter to characterize alien physiology). Which I apparently haven't re-read any of in the past 20 years (none in this booklog so far).

I guess it's not surprising that Palmer likes some of the same authors I do!

Jen and Meg seem to be okay with the idea of being co-wives. That's the norm for the Isi I guess, and poly is what I'm used to. Lack of sexual jealousy doesn't seem to correlate with intelligence particularly, though. And it sounds like the plan involves a breeding program (I wonder if they'll have a son and 4 younger daughters? Two pairs of twins, even?).

Back in Emergence, Candy has to consider a transactional sexual relationship with an older man. Jen here is assumed to be mature enough to think about it sanely. I would note that both books are set up to give the girl the choice on this, and that Candy decides against (and doesn't have to physically back up that decision, and clearly could if necessary). It still feels just a bit like too much interest in the question, but it does arise naturally out of such precocious protagonists. Jen hasn't done anything yet, but breeding seems to be key to the plan, so I guess we'll see. When they say "as soon as physically capable" that's pretty soon. My rule of thumb on this is that you can give meaningfully informed consent to sex after you've been sexually active for maybe 2 years, which leaves this (and every) initial choice not fully informed.

By the way, why do the Isis need separate words for "male scientist" and "female scientist"? And what about people who don't fit the gender binary? Maybe their biology is that narrow, but it seems unlikely. This bit, which he's committed to from 1986, hasn't aged well.

Well, they managed to stand off pirates from the medical companies, and then even a US Navy cruiser. I still think there should have been more simple assassination attempts (none at all are mentioned).

The military government, and the constitutional convention, are scary. Less drama around the convention than I would have expected. Touchstones (the brand name of the perfect lie detector) are all very well, but it requires people believing them. At least they can test them extensively in person. But our current fact-free political environment almost looks like someone is planning ahead.


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David Dyer-Bennet