NESFA Members' Reviews

Playing God

by Sarah Zettel

Warner Books, 1998, ISBN 0-446-52322-4

A book review by Elisabeth Carey

The Dedelphi are an intelligent species with an interesting and I think fairly plausible biology: they are born female in multiple births (as many as six in a single birthing are possible), remain female through childhood and functional adulthood, and then experience the Change, becoming gentle, non-sapient males. All the offspring of a particular birthing are essentially identical, genetically, so that for an adult Dedelphi, a sister's offspring are as valuable genetically as her own. The Dedelphi have no words for close relationships except "mother", "sister", and "daughter".

The Dedelphi Great Families have been at war with each other for centuries. In the process, they've done a lot of ecological damage to their planet, and the latest disaster is a bioweapon that mutated and got out of control. This disaster has finally pushed the Dedelphi to try something new, peace and a Confederation. The Confederation contracts with Bioverse, Inc., to do biological remediation of their planet, including defeating the plague. Bioverse, in turn, offers citizenship and employment to two of the best-known Dedelphi experts in the Human Chain, Lynn Nussbaumer and her partner Dr. David Zelotes. Lynn and David have been working in a Dedelphi refugee colony on Mars, and have friends and contacts among one of the largest Great Families, the t'Theria. An old lover of Lynn's, xenologist Arron Hagopian, has been on Dedelph for ten years, and has more extensive friends and contacts among another Great Family, the Getesaph, the most bitter enemies of the t'Theria. No one confides entirely in anyone else , each for reasons that seem compelling to them, and the situation spirals out of control. These are well-developed characters, and interesting and complex cultures, with real conflicts and a genuine sense of history.

I do have one quibble, though. The Web is a vital means of information exchange, which is okay, but some of the terminology just doesn\rquote t quite work for me. The logic of talking about putting out a thread to someone, or knotting something into the Web, or even "untieing a knot" rather than "reading a post", is not terrible when you think directly about it, but it felt like going over a bump in the road, every time I encountered it. Zettel has let the internal logic of the imagery override clear communication.

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