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Metareview: Metaplanetary by Tony Daniel
(Eos, $26.00, 464 pages, hardback; April 20, 2001; ISBN 0-06-105142-X.)

Rating: A/A+ -- best novel of the year? Wonderful hard-SF space-opera -- but it's part one of (at least) two.

Tony Daniel has been a 'new author to watch' for the past few years. Now he's come through with his first major novel, and it's a winner.

The setup: it's 3013 AD. Humanity has spread throughout the solar system. The Inner System is bound together -- literally -- by enormous, quasi-organic nanotech cables -- the Met -- which provide both transport and living space. The cableways end at the asteroids, and the Outer System is freer and more tolerant of human-level artificial intelligences. Beyond Pluto is the domain of the sentient cloudships, who dominate the Outer System economy, and who have made the first tentative interstellar settlements.

A dictator is emerging in the Inner System, and quickly rises to dominate this closely-bound polity. He is enslaving the 'free converts', the more-or-less pure-software AI's. A war is coming, over what it means to be human....

Here's Paul Di Filippo's review, the best I found online:

"Daniel has sat down and rethought all the clichés and tropes of nanotech, solar system colonization, interplanetary war, intelligence extension and a dozen other SF fascinations. The result is a book that is remarkably fresh and alluring, yet one which deliberately speaks to the past work... of major authors, continuing that tradition of cross-generational dialogue for which SF is justifiably famous...

"Readers, beware! Complex, sprawling and fascinating as Metaplanetary is, the book is only the first in a series, and its cliffhanger ending might frustrate."

Actually, with Paul's warning, you'll be fine -- Metaplanetary ends at a logical place to pause, though it may be some time before Part 2, Superluminal, appears, dammit. Cliffhanger or no, this is the best book I've read this year, and perhaps since Vernor Vinge's epic A Deepness in the Sky. Folks, this is the Good Hard Stuff. Unless you're absolutely firm about reading the complete story at once -- get thee to the bookstore!

And let's hope that, once Daniel finishes Superluminal, he returns to the world of "A Dry, Quiet War" -- an amazing story, set in what could be the far future of Metaplanetary / Superluminal. Absolutely not to be missed.

Author Daniel provides some sweet background information at his websites:

"I wrote down every cool science fiction idea I'd had in the last ten years and began to work them together to produce my setting -- the solar system as it would appear in 3013 A.D. My main ingredients were advances in nanotechnology and physics and, on the cultural side, a combining of Eastern and Western philosophies into one spiritual system..." -- Tony Daniel (minor SPOILERS), www.metaplanetary.com

CAUTION -- some **SPOILERS** in linked material (but none here)

www.metaplanetary.com and www.tonydaniel.com
-- see especially his notes, a "webwork of thought, transcribed almost exactly from my initial notes for the novel" -- which is a neat look behind the scenes at how the novel came to be. If you're sensitive to spoilers, I'd leave this for after you've read the book, or at least until you get to a technical sticking-point -- like those interplanetary cables, which just might work -- given a 'few' engineering advances...

For example, "the main cables come in at the [planetary] poles, where they are connected by a gigantic universal joint..." A better analog might be an oilfield Kelly bearing, which joins the rotating drill-rods to the (non-rotating) drilling-mud supply, pumped downhole to flush out the cuttings. For a Daniel bearing, you'd need a BIG ball-joint there, to accommodate Met-flex.

Where the rotational 'gravity' changes rapidly, "where the barrel edge meets the pith of the cable. Kids go up there to get whacked out, I'll bet." Cool beans, bro.

Another link

Fictitious essays, exposition of the Metaplanetary backstory, from the book. A classic and effective way to handle exposition. Includes a few minor spoilers.

**END of Spoilers**

More reviews of Metaplanetary

  • David Soyka, SF Site (with more Daniel reviews and links):
    "If I were to 'blurb' Metaplanetary, I'd describe it as 'Heinlein meets Gibson and Stephenson, with a dash of Tom Robbins.'"
  • Roberta Johnson, Booklist:
    "Daniel creates wonderful characters... such as Jill, who combines a ferret's fierce loyalty and a 16-year-old's fresh beauty. Reminiscent of Dan Simmons' Hyperion, but wryer than that book..."


Review by Peter D Tillman; More of Peter D Tillman's reviews can be found at: SF Site and Amazon.com. Google "Peter D. Tillman" +review for many more!

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© Peter D Tillman 11 August 2001