I work at a university, and while I enjoy my job, nothing really groundbreaking ever happens here. Life goes on, making the news here in Canada at times, but nothing worldwide. Sure, we have our academic scandals, but nothing really big. One thing that has never happened is a pyramid that has traveled through a wormhole crashing into the library. Now that's unique!
Thus, my university is nothing like the University of Chicago. In Eric Flint and Dave Freer's Pyramid Scheme the university has to deal with an alien pyramid. Not only does it wreck a perfectly good building, but it's making people disappear as well. Unfortunately, one thing it can't make disappear is trite dialogue and poor characterization. While the book is fun, there's no substance and the characterization is questionable at times.
This pyramid is an alien artifact, a parasite that attempts to dominate a planet by using its mythologies and beliefa in order to goad the inhabitants into using nuclear energy against it. The military is called in to deal with it, and people start disappearing. Some of them come back, though they are dead or dying when they do, but one group in particular doesn't seem to be coming back at all. A ragtag bunch of soldiers, professors, and workmen were all snatched together, and they discover themselves in a world of Greek myths come to life. They have no idea how to get home, and only professor Jerry Lukacs really knows the myths and the language well enough to get by. They have to fight and think their way through the hazards (they land on Odysseus' ship and encounter some of the hazards that he faced in The Odyssey) and try to figure out a way to get home.
Meanwhile, others back home are trying to figure out what this pyramid is and how to deal with it. The military, as usual, wants to try and blow it up. It's expanding and becoming even more dangerous. They get some rudimentary information when somebody returns, but usually that person is dead or dying, so they can't get much. They muddle around some, there are some conflicts between the scientists and the soldiers, but nothing much is done. Will our heroes be able to fight off a bunch of angry gods and the force behind them? Or will they fall victim to the ultimate pyramid scheme?
Pyramid Scheme is a fluffy book. Sure, there's some quite graphic violence in it, but it's mainly a romp through some of our ancient myths. There is a sense of danger to the main characters, but it's pretty obvious who's going to live and who's going to die (though one character, rather than dying, just disappears and is never really referred to again). Thus, we get to enjoy the events in the novel with the main characters. Freer and Flint use a lot of basic mythology and then twist it. They're also able to combine bits and pieces from several eras, as the alien device is not that choosy. Thus, myths from different Greek time periods merge into one, as well as a few Egyptian myths. It's obvious the authors did a lot of research into this aspect of the book.
I enjoy a good romp, and that's why I'm rating Pyramid Scheme as high as I am, but the book really suffers if you give it even the most cursory scratch. Characterization is basically a series of either jokes or arguments between the characters (Jerry and Lamont commit the most atrocious puns, for example), but it's all surface. Each character has specific traits that set him/her apart from each other, but deep down they're pretty much all the same. Liz DeBeers suffers from this the most. She's from South Africa and is a visiting scholar at the university because her husband is there. Aside from a few references to Pretoria and other South African details, though, you couldn't tell that she's from anywhere different from anybody else. I got no sense that she was not American, despite the fact that she supposedly hasn't been in the country that long.
Another problem with the book is the male/female relationships. All of the women (even the mythological ones who become members of the party) end up pairing off with one of the guys. I can see that harsh situations may make attractions that may not otherwise have happened, but all of them? It's simply too much, and not believable. In fact, the only character who isn't paired up (male *or* female) is the one who has a spouse waiting at home.
As far as the plot goes, I did find some of it questionable, especially the ending (though I loved the creative use of "pyramids" that sparked the ending). The actions of the characters and the sequence of events during the climax boggled my mind. News crews don't act that way, for one thing. I can't go into detail without spoiling the ending, however. Another problem is that the situation back in Chicago ends up having nothing to do with the resolution. It adds tension to the proceedings as we start to figure out what is going on, but once the book finishes we realize that they were just going through the motions. It was a bit aggravating.
Still, despite the many problems, I found myself reading "just one more chapter" often, and I did enjoy the book. If you don't like myths at all, then this book is not for you. Diehard myth fans may find the book too frivolous with what they love. Personally, I had a lot of fun imagining what it would be like to interact with these mythological characters, from Odysseus to Zeus and everyone in between. Let your mind go, and you may like this one. Just don't scratch the surface.