kw: book reviews, science fiction, interplanetary politics
Not long ago (Thursday, 10/20/05) I mused on the the possibility for human-alien hybrids, just based on the likelihood that two independent DNA systems might be compatible. Shortly thereafter, I read a book based on a human-alien hybrid. At first, I thought panspermia within the solar system might offer a way for the DNA between Earth and Jupiter life systems to be compatible. But, it turns out, these Jovians are from elsewhere...just where, we don't find out, but the fact itself is a source of dramatic tension.
So, Timothy Zahn presents the discovery of life "swimming" in the Jovian atmosphere, intelligent life at that. Within twenty years, Human-Qanska communication is sufficiently advanced that between them, the two species work out a way for a paraplegic human to be merged with a Qanskan embryo, to be born and raised a Qanska. The book is Manta's Gift, and the gift in question turns out to be a sacrifice different from what you might expect. The genre is semi-hard SF, with a strong veneer of politics to provide the evil megalomaniac that SF novels routinely deliver.
The cultural re-awakening of a young human show-off and jerk (how d'ya think he became paraplegic?) who must become his race's ambassador to Jove is convincingly, if sketchily, told. The dynamics of swimming in an environment that is swooshing around the Jovian equator at several hundred km/hr has been thought through, as has the complication of a thousand-fold change in fluid density as one descends.
As it happens, the Qanskans are in the midst of an ecological crisis, and it takes problem-solvers, that is, humans, to figure it out for them. How an herbivorous species gained sufficient intelligence to be self-aware and have advanced communication skills and culture, without simultaneously developing strong problem-solving skills, is beyond me.
I have an even bigger issue, one involving physics. Much is made of the Qanskans feeling wind in the left or right ear when they turn north or south. This becomes the focus of a dramatic episode, which is a shame. If you are swimming in the thick atmosphere, it makes no difference whatever how fast it is moving; to you it is calm, absent local turbulence. A hot-air balloon or dirigible may be in still air, or in a rapid, steady wind, but the inhabitants will experience complete calm, as long as they don't blow too close to something that stirs up an eddy. The wind-in-the-ear stuff makes it seem that these air-swimmers are somehow anchored to the planet's surface, thousands of miles below. Can't be so.
These quibbles aside, Zahn has several new and interesting ideas, and a way with words that make this an enjoyable yarn.