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Metareview: Manta's Gift

by Timothy Zahn

(Tor, August 2003, US$7, 416 pages, paperback, ISBN: 081258032X. Hardback also available, $24.95.)

This is a solid, straightforward first-contact/coming-of-age/action-adventure tale, set on Jupiter -- or, more accurately, within Jupiter's thick atmosphere, where the ray-shaped Quanska live. The Quanska (literally) cover scanran into a human Jupiter probe, to the surprise and consternation of both races. Once communication is established, the Quanska offer a near-term fetus as a host-body for a human brain. Matt Raimey, a young quadriplegic, is recruited, and is duly reborn as a baby Quanska.

"I love the central idea of Manta's Gift -- an ornery, shallow and callow human youth trades a hopeless existence as a quadriplegic for a chance to be reborn as an alien being with a (reasonably) human mind. The description of a birth from the point of view of the thing being born is... interesting. The depiction of what is a truly alien society -- in setup, in physiology, in mindset -- is well done, and is a fascinating thread to follow throughout the book. Everything is accounted for, in suitably alien ways..."
-- Alma Hromic,

Once the earthly Powers That Be twig that the Quanska aren't native to Jupiter, they want that alien stardrive -- now! Rather than trade for it, they send a goon to extort it. She opens 'negotiations' by kidnapping a bunch of Quanska children. Worse, the kids escape...

In a fine twist, the Quanska themselves are desperate for human help with their big problem -- their introduced ecology is falling apart. And there's a catch to their 'stardrive', too.

The crisp dialog and hardball power-politics remind me of prime-period Resnick (eg Santiago). On the downside, the Quanska Big Secret is, well, incredible. Fortunately, it's revealed late, and the book has other virtues. But it's sloppy and dumb [note 1, SPOILERS].

"As usual, he draws his characters simply -- there is a distinct tendency to caricature -- and often poses them rather stiffly on the stage. Yet Zahn is ingenious in his plotting and well versed in keeping things moving. Manta's Gift leaves the reader feeling very satisfied."
--Tom Easton,

My favorite Zahn remains Spinneret (1985), and if you missed that one, you're in for a treat. Manta isn't in that class, but it's an entertaining way to pass an evening. My grade: "B".

"Manta's Gift suffers by comparison to Poul Anderson's classic novelette, 'Call Me Joe', which covers virtually the same thematic ground of a transmogrified human agent becoming a true Jovian... his Rainey remains a human in a Qanska suit throughout."
-- Norman Spinrad [scroll down],

Spinneret review:




The ecologic crisis turns out to be caused by, of all things, dead bodies piling up in Jupiter's lower atmosphere. The bodies block some of the healthful radiation from below, that turns out to be a requirement of the Quanska ecology.

OK, fine, but the Quanska have only lived on Jupiter for 2000 years! Further, they are stated to be a small population -- a few million -- and long-lived, to boot. And this is Jupiter, fer chrissake, which is, umm, rather large...

BOTE calculation:

100 yr lifespan = 20 generations in 2000 years. Even assuming a Quanska population of 100 million, this is just 2 billion corpses, which ain't gonna block much healthful Jupiter rads at all. Elapsed time to calculate this: about 2 minutes.

This is the sort of scientific gaffe common in the pulps fifty years ago. It's embarrassing, and disheartening, to see this sort of thing in 2003, from a reputable, well-educated author.

[...back to main text]

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

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