NESFA Members' Reviews


by Robert Reed

A book review by Mark L. Olson

Tor, 2000, 351 pp, $25.95

The only recent book I can compare this with is Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds. Both are incredibly complex worlds with mysteries within mysteries and super science and rebellions and great ideas. Somehow, though, Revelation Space clicked for me in a way that Marrow never quite did.

The story takes place on the Great Ship, a Jupiter-sized derelict which came into the Milky Way from somewhere else. Humans got there first, colonized it - with the ship so large it's hard to describe the process as one of 'manning' it. - and turned it into a passenger ship where billions of individuals - human and alien - ride it as it circles the Galaxy.
They're all immortal. In this far-distant future human (and alien) genetics have been altered so that immortality is built right in. The crew that first boarded the Great Ship is still running it 100,000 years later. (This may account for the loopiness of the Master Captain who has commanded all that time. She's smart, tough, powerful and yet the entire book, ultimately, is about how little she's in control of events.) In fact, half the main characters are around 100,000 years old, while the others - mere children - are in their 4000s. It's a bit disquieting how much like us they all are. I'd expect some change, some additional growth in people as their immortal lives wear on. But not these people. Their immortality is necessary to the plot, but otherwise has little effect.

Every 75 pages or so Reed radically changes the story's direction. It begins as something like a mystery set in a futuristic society, and then jumps in an unexpected direction to exploration of a most unusual world, and then jumps again and again. The part on Marrow itself is probably the best, especially the early part - a truly alien world presenting the characters with a horrendously difficult task.

But when it was all over I just didn't quite feel that he'd managed to keep it all connected. The characters' motivations were muddy, the mysteries just a bit too opaque, and the ending was far too ambiguous and implausible. (I wish people who want to use the trappings of hard SF would trouble to be a bit more consistent with their science. Reed uses science as just a form of magic with no limits or rules except those demanded by the plot.)

I'd rate Marrow a very near-miss. It's definitely worth reading, but it fails to make my Hugo list for 2000.
** 1/2

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