NESFA Members' Reviews

Spin State

by Chris Moriarty

Bantam Spectra, 2003, ISBN 0-553-38213-6

A book review by Elisabeth Carey

UN Peacekeeper Major Catherine Li is a genetically engineered clone passing for what her century and culture regards as human, and the exposure of that fact is the disaster waiting to happen that lurks underneath every other major fact of her life. She's a soldier, a sometime military intelligence operative, a hero of the war against the Syndicates (large clone groups of genetic constructs like herself), friend of the oldest stable Emergent AI, Cohen—and it's all worthless if anyone finds out that she's a construct, rather than being, as her records show, a barely-legally-human person of only one-quarter construct ancestry.

So of course, after a very dangerous information-retrieval raid goes wrong, she's sent to Compson's World, the mining world she was decanted and raised on, to investigate the apparently accidental death of a critically important scientist who just happens to have been a construct of the same clone line as Li herself. This is dangerous territory for Li—too many people here know who she is. Even though most of them, construct and human, are pleased that one of their own, one of the always-exploited mine workers, got out, it's still dangerous that they know—and made more dangerous by the fact that Li herself has significant memory gaps, caused by the very fact of her military career and frequent FTL jumps.

In investigating Helen Sharifi's death, Li has to pick over the treacherous ground of her own history, the legal status of clones, the sometimes-shaky relationship between humans and AIs, and how far she can trust either her own superiors or her AI friend Cohen. She also has to undertand Sharifi's theories about the Bose-Einstein condensates that make FTL travel possible, and which are Compson's World's only export.

This is an interestingly complex and mostly-believable culture, with humans building new cultures in space and on new worlds while Earth is being re-terraformed after an ecological collapse. There are some false notes—I find the idea that the Provisional IRA will be the most important internal terrorist threat, off Earth, two or three centuries in the future, only slightly more believable than the idea that diehard American supporters of the Confederacy will be, and I have to suspect of being the product of the same kind of cultural myopia. This is a background detail, though, and overall the culture here is a lot more complex and interesting than that, just as the science and technology, both biological and otherwise, is also interesting and exciting. Add to that the fact that Li and Cohen are both interesting and engaging characters, and Moriarty knows how to put a plot together, and this is a very good book.


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