Thursday, February 14, 2008

Singularity's Ring

By Paul Melko.

This book is reminiscent of Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep, idea-wise: many humans in the book's world have been genetically engineered (before birth) to have special glands capable of transmitting emotions and thoughts between small groups (two to five) of people. They are then socially trained to work together as a "single" person, or pod human. The characters were interesting, although I didn't come away from the book convinced, as they were, that they couldn't possibly function apart as individual beings.

However, despite several surprising plot twists (don't read the inside cover, though), the plot seemed driven too much by external impetuses. Every time the main character, Apollo Papadopulos, started doing something, it seemed as if another catastrophe, kidnapping, or intervention appeared to set them on a different path. The story also seemed somewhat disjointed, especially in the first half, with dropped plot threads all over the place. (For example, Manuel's twin sister is briefly mentioned, but never followed up on; the Gene Wars are also left unexplained, although with somewhat more justification, perhaps; and another important plot line is also dropped.) The principle antagonists don't have very convincing motivations.

Typographically, there are several annoying homonym errors: break instead of brake, loose instead of lose, and so on. Someone used a spelling checker, perhaps, but ended up with wrong words instead of misspelled ones.

Still, I liked this book quite a bit. The main character, Apollo Papadopulos (really five people who work together as one, most of the time), was quite likeable. Though the storytelling could have been smoother, some of the ideas were quite good; I especially liked the details about the Ring's engineering and the explanation for pods. Others were lacking; the impact of pod minds on sexuality and marriage, for example, was glossed over with a line that sounded like it was from a catechism and some vague sex scenes. Other human relationships, like friendship and parenthood, also seem to have been subsumed by the creation of pods; singletons (some who don't have the pod genetics, others who failed to combine into pods) live in their own enclaves apart from pod society as rejects. The Overgovernment was also left in a shadowy position in the background, despite having a large investment in creating and training Apollo for their mission. Apollo's assertion that "of course" quintets should have five times as many votes because they use five times as many resources as single humans didn't ring true.

If you like the nifty ideas and adventures in science fiction, you'll probably like this book, but don't look too closely at some of the details.

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