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The Human Abstract

by George Mann

(Telos Publishing, £7.99, 133 pages, published April 2004.)

Review by Nicholas Whyte

Rehan Mihajlovic is a dealer in rare books cover scanon the far-future planet of Copernica. He comes across a previously unknown edition of an early history of the planet's human colony, including paragraphs which have been excised from the standard account. His search for the solution to this mystery brings murder and mayhem, and eventually leads him to the secret behind the colony's foundation.

The story has a curiously steampunkish feel to it, with the protagonists leading what seems to be a nineteenth-century colonial lifestyle (including a strange dependence on printed books as carriers of information forward through the centuries), but with added nanotechnology, personality storage, and intrusive policing. The settings are well described and convincing. The climax is a Haggard-like journey into the wilderness to track down the heart of the mystery.

However, in general I was not very impressed. Neither the means nor the motivation of the bad guys ever become particularly clear or convincing--the means, in that Mihajlovic and his love interest seem able to escape brushes with near-certain death with increasing degrees of implausibility, and the motivation, in that it doesn't really seem such a big deal if the Awful Secret were to be revealed now, a thousand years (we are told) after the events took place. Mihajlovic's female companion seems to be in the story just for sex and screaming.

There are ponderous philosophical chapeau paragraphs introducing each chapter, and some truly dreadful turns of phrase--at the start our hero and his friends are "ignorant of the story that was beginning to unravel about us like the cold, entwined coils of a mysterious serpent", and later on we are told that his wounds "looked like huge purple welts", probably because they actually were huge purple welts. Telos, the publishers, must bear some responsibility for this as well; this is not the first time I have finished one of their books with the feeling that the editor's responsibilities had been discharged too lightly.

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