NESFA Members' Reviews

Burning the Ice

by Laura J. Mixon

Tor, 2002, ISBN 0-312-86903-7

A book review by Elisabeth Carey

Clones, colonization, love, death, alien intelligences, artificial intelligence, a twisted take on how well encasing human beings and forcing them to interact with the world solely through computers and telepresence, à la McCaffrey's Brains, would really turn out—this book has it all.

Oh, and it's fun, too.

Manda CarliPablo is part of a human colony attempting to terraform a moon of a gas giant in a system with no more immediately habitable planets. The colonists are all clones derived from the people who controlled the ship that dropped them on this world, people referred to as the crèche-born, who were then going to leave the system for the next one on the list. Manda is currently the youngest of the CarliPablo group—and the only singleton in the colony. Everyone else has vatmates, giving them twins, triplets, or even quadruplets. Manda's twin, though, died in the vat before they were decanted. This makes her a little strange and somewhat at odds even with the rest of her own clone. With the rest of the colony, it's even worse.

Howver, Manda has managed to find, for the moment, satisfying work that doesn't require her to do what she does badly—cooperate with others. She's exploring the oceans of their semi-frozen world by telepresence-operated waldoes, looking for heat vents that might be favorable spots for the native life, mostly microbes, that they know at least did exist there in the past. This doesn't conflict with her own clone's favored project of mining the methane ice, and it's potentially beneficial to the colony, so she's left alone to do it.

And then, more or less simultaneously, she causes a major social embarrassment for her clone, a accidental meeting with a man from another clone, Jim LuisMichael, leads to some cooperation and a lead on a likely vent, she loses contact with the waldo in the best position to explore it, and a cave-in causes death, devastation, and loss of resources for the colony. Oh, and the colony's oldest and most sophisticated AI tells her that the crèche-born are still around.

There are a lot of secrets in this happy colony, and secrets within secrets, and even the AI has a conflict of interest. It's intricate and well-done, and keeps getting better all the way through.


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