So I was pleased to get a copy of Stephen Baxter's Manifold: Time for free. It contains almost as much sciency verbiage as I want from my SF, and it's fun and entertaining. There are even female characters who get a lot of screen time - it may even be 50:50 male:female, although the book hasn't passed the Bechdel test anywhere yet. (I'm not quite finished.)
Over the years, I've become very used to the problems of hard SF. (Like, I am totally willing to celebrate Manifold: Time's amazing quantity of girl characters: two! Of course, neither of them understands the science at all, but I know better than to ask for miracles.) One of the big ones is that a lot of the people who write it - well, they understand the science. They understand the math. Actual people are harder.
Like, there's a scene in the book where the Resident Explanatory Genius goes on television to tell the world about the Carter catastrophe (in a highly condensed version, this is a statistical argument that predicts the probability of the end of the human race in the relatively near future), which the book uses in a modified form that says we, as a species, probably only have about 200 years left. The REG does not go for the simplified, sound-bite version I just gave you; he goes on for a while, explaining Why the Human Race Is (Probably) Doomed, in his usual sciency verbiage style. And the world goes into a panic and depression.
I read that and realized Baxter has no clue what people are actually like, or he'd know that the normal human response to a speech like that, on television, is not panic and depression; it's changing the channel. Very few people would listen long enough, or pay enough attention, to understand what the REG is saying. And even those who did wouldn't buy it. Statistics? That are predicated on the idea that there is nothing special about us? No one is going to believe it or even give a shit, frankly, except people who already know what the Carter catastrophe is.
But, fine, hard SF writers are allowed to write about slightly AU versions of our reality. I'm comfortable with that.
I was a little more impressed (horrified, whatever) with a very special piece of characterization. The main character is named Malenfant (yes, really), and late in the book (spoilers!), it is revealed that - wait. Let's do this as a poll.
Say that you discover that you have a treatable but not curable disease - you'll live a normal life, but you'll have to take medication regularly. This means you can't be an astronaut and will have to fall back on your plan B, which is being a maverick billionaire industrialist. (It's always good to have a safety career!)
Also, you are married. Your wife, Emma, doesn't want children, but nonetheless, this disease means you won't be able to have any.
You decide that the obvious way to handle this is not to tell her, and then have an affair, so that you can divorce Emma, so that you don't ruin her life, because you love her SO MUCH and this treatable illness makes you unworthy. Of course, she is intimately involved in your corporation, and indeed keeps it running, so you will still see her every day and she will still be closely involved in your life; you have explicitly told her that, sure, you're getting divorced, but you don't want her to quit. Decades go past with her wondering what the fuck happened and you maintaining your noble silence.
What can be said about this?
That seems like a perfectly rational state of affairs to me. It's what I would do!
Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a RAVING DOUCHEBAG.
Houston, we have mainpain. We have epic manpain.
The idiocy is strong in this one.
...Seriously, that's the best big secret Baxter could come up with? Couldn't he just make him have a tail grafted onto his butt during plastic surgery gone wrong or something?
Wait. Why does Emma keep working for Malenfant for all those decades?
Malenfant isn't a sparkly vampire, is he?
Do you want to hear more about books from me? Including ones I actually like?
Yes! I want to hear about books you like.
Yes! I want to hear more about books you have issues with.
No. I just don't want to talk about books. It's - personal.