In Dingus’ (Worlds in Transition, 2017) sci-fi novel, a 24th-century scientist, caught in a Martian revolt, tries to protect his two secret projects: an advanced computer intelligence and a group of children who are a leap forward in human evolution.
In the year 2331, an overcrowded Earth has caused humanity to spread across the solar system. Mars is a particularly restive colony, with insurgencies violently agitating for political independence from patrolling military forces. Genetic engineering and the Martian environment have spawned distinct differences between the Martian residents and the oft-augmented Earthers, escalating the hostility. In this volatile cauldron of interplanetary intrigue, George Mills, an idealistic scientist with personal failings and a divorce in his past, makes two major breakthroughs. One is a self-aware quantum-computer intelligence called Will whose abilities and apparent emotions surpass any technology yet developed. The other, George’s collaboration with his sometime-lover and soul mate, biologist Joanne Zhu of Mars, is a set of genetically engineered children who are not only superior in intellect, but also cleansed of humanity’s instinctual aggression and bloodthirstiness. They are, in fact, a new species. Both creations are regarded as threats by Earth’s heavy-handed authorities, who once considered Mars an inferior backwater. Dingus is a scientist himself with a background in physics and software development, and one is tempted to compare his impressive novel with the work of sci-fi grandmasters such as Isaac Asimov, Frederik Pohl, or Arthur C. Clarke—also researchers, inventors, and thinkers who blended narrative with extraordinary scientific acumen and heady concepts. However, the way that George, Joanne, and Will shield themselves, as well as the children, from a dismal fate tends to fall together a little too neatly (via deus ex machina, in more ways than one). The well-engineered prose still effectively reflects the author’s upbeat, humanistic worldview, though, even though the plot could have easily veered into weapon-happy, paramilitary-thriller territory. George is a likable, reluctant hero throughout, although the action sometimes halts for long, hard-science exposition dialogues. However, these intervals are cleverly staged as sojourns in virtual reality (courtesy of Will), where time passes differently.
Engagingly rendered, thoughtful hard sci-fi.