NATURAL HISTORY by Justina Robson


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Another entry in what amounts to a (not exclusively) British-accented new New Wave of breathtaking space operas (cf. Iain M. Banks, Ken MacLeod, John C. Wright, Neal Asher), here’s Robson's third novel and first US appearance.

Several centuries hence, the moon and Mars have been terraformed, semi-independent societies thrive at Jupiter and Saturn; true artificial intelligences, Abacands, serve without desires or volition, while humanity consists of natural-type Unevolved and a spectacular array of odd-bodied, MekTek-enhanced Forged: Rocs, TickTock Hives, Heavy Angels—and human-machine starships like Voyager Lonestar Isol, which, cruising near Barnard's Star, collides with an exploded-spaceship debris field and sustains life-threatening damage. Near death, Isol comes upon a strange silicate rock, apparently an engine—and, somehow, sentient! Isol realizes that the rock, “Stuff,” is, via eleven-dimensional superspace, capable of transporting her instantly, anywhere, and of reshaping matter to any desired form. She jumps to what seems to be the rock’s homeworld, where stand the deserted buildings of an alien civilization. Isol jumps back to Earth, intending to sell bits of Stuff to her would-be revolutionary Forged contacts (they chafe under the Gaiasol government's heavy hand). Fearing schism or outright civil war, Gaiasol's security chief, General Machen, rejects Isol's claims and insists on independent verification. Isol chooses the Unevolved cultural archeologist Zephyr Duquesne who, Isol assumes, should be easy to manipulate. Zephyr finds the planet to be all that Isol has claimed, covered with astonishing artifacts that have the semblance of living matter. Meanwhile, other recipients of Stuff are less happy: some hear voices; others fear that Stuff is invasive. Isol begins to fight Stuff’s efforts to remake her, terrified of what the inevitable metamorphosis may bring.

Quirky, highly intelligent, uneven, sometimes exposition-clogged, often utterly remarkable: alert, agile readers will find it thoroughly rewarding.

Pub Date: Jan. 4th, 2005
ISBN: 0-553-58741-2
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Spectra/Bantam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2004