EPS Review #108 - Natural History

Natural History by Justina Robson, Macmillan 2003, 330pp.

This SF novel starts out well. A post-human, genetically engineered to be a spaceship (with suitably solitary personality), runs into some unexpected space rubble on an interstellar mission of exploration. She knows she is dying, and continues contemplating some song lyrics while making every effort to survive. The alien rubble offers a surprising solution, as well as instantaneous transport to what seems to be an empty planet. She sees this as a possible homeland for her kind, the "forged." Is the alien stuff dangerous? Well, yeah! That is the fun. All the while I read I feared a disappointing ending à la Peter Hamilton. But I enjoyed the the writing, which is surprisingly good ("he shivered with the memory of Isol's sudden presence: a curious mix of voluptuous, desiring neediness, and the cold teeth of emotional absolute zero.") And the ending is satisfactory. Maybe the subplots could be more exciting and numerous, and maybe the ideas could be wilder, but Ms Robson looks like an author to watch.

Thanks to Paul for the recommendation.

Meanwhile, allow me to trash another piece of SF. I picked up Titan by Stephen Baxter while I was in London with Griffin. We each bought a book for the train, but I ended up reading his aloud. Later I read mine -- or actually skimmed it, something I hate doing. But I was determined to get to the part where I could read about alien life on Titan. Surprise! It is tacked on unbelievably in the very last pages. Everything before that is lame immediate-future SF, where we drag Saturn 5's out of mothballs and send a suicide last-gasp-of-NASA mission to Saturn. Baxter is clearly someone who is very unhappy with the state of NASA today. He is also one of those writers who pick a purely Politically Correct cast of characters only. (Actually the anthropologist heroine in Natural History, Zephyr, is a short fat woman, but this was fine by me because the better writing made her believable -- I loved her email relationship with a guy who proves to be a jellyfish). Avoid this guy Baxter that SFX (whatever that is) calls on the cover "the best SF author in Britain". But do read the review by "Paparodo" on the Amazon link above, which I thought was funny.

Paul (a different one) wrote: There was a 1950's SciFi story about a post-human engineered to be a space-ship. She was a big fan of Bob Dylan song lyircs - which were a basis for a "religion" practiced by the spaceships (which, oddly enough, still required human pilots).

Paul wrote: Glad you enjoyed natural history. I found it well crafted too. Reading the second of the Stevenson Baroque books now. My they are fascinating. I guess we've always known that without the constraints of an author, deadline, or page limit, that man would create something truly remarkably long and involved. Not sure where it's going but it's entertained me so far and I'm almost 2k pages in... ugh. [But] what else is retirement for other than reading 3700 pages of 17th century historical fiction about mathemtaticians, scientists, and nobility.