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Omnifix
Scot Mackay
Roc, 416 pages

Omnifix
Scot Mackay
Scott Mackay has published science fiction novels Outpost, The Meek and Orbis, as well as the Barry Gilbert mystery series and a World War II thriller, A Friend in Barcelona. He's also the author of numerous short stories, and has been awarded the Okanagan Award for literary short fiction and the Crime Writers of Canada's Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Story. He lives in Toronto, Canada.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Orbis
SF Site Review: Outpost
Interview with Scott Mackay

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

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It has been ten years since an invasion by an unknown alien species released hundreds of unmanned weapons platforms into the solar system, all of them armed with deadly nanogenic weapons. Earth forces beat back the attack, but weren't able to prevent the devastation of earth's environment and population. Civilization is now confined to fortified city-states heavily shielded against the nanogens that remain active: Nanogen Number 17, which progressively dissolves human bone and tissue, and Nanogen Number 16, which infects the young, lying dormant until the age of twenty-five and then triggering a hideously-accelerated aging process and death by the age of thirty.

Dr. Alex Denyer is a loyal citizen of the Defederacy of Delaware, and one of the world's foremost experts on alien technology. It's his job to deactivate the remaining weapons platforms -- and also, by studying alien tech, to find a way to reverse the effects of Numbers 16 and 17. He has a personal stake in finding the cure: His son Daryl was infected with Number 16 during the alien bombardments, and is fast approaching his twentieth birthday.

Like everyone else, Alex believes that the aliens are gone for good. But then another alien weapons platform, many times larger than the ones that were sent ten years ago, is spotted at the edge of the solar system. Is it the final invasion? A deactivated derelict? And why has the human community on Mars, with which Earth has long been at war, sent an exploration vessel to meet it? As he waits to be called to address the threat, Alex is swept into a whirlwind of intrigue and political double dealing that threaten to destroy his reputation. But it will take a disastrous encounter with Number 17 to make Alex question his understanding of the aliens and their intentions -- and his loyalty to the Defederacy he has always so unquestioningly served.

Unlike Scot Mackay's previous novel, Orbis, whose jumble of highly original but wildly disparate themes never quite gelled, Omnifix is a straight-forward, well-organized action yarn. The brisk pace, unadorned prose, and minimalist characterizations recall the SF of an earlier age, though a more modern sensibility is on display in the deftness with which Mackay reveals his complex future North America -- its landscape and culture hugely changed both by nanogen damage and the actions taken to contain it -- through the action of the book, never resorting to infodumping.

Most interesting, perhaps, is Alex's experience once he's infected with Number 17. The antidote, the Omnifix of the title, also works nanogenically, by creating cybernetic body parts as fast as Number 17 destroys them; the end result is a human being who is more machine than flesh and, because Omnifix is a military application, possessed of various warrior-like attributes such as built-in weapons systems and super strength. Number 17s inspire both fear and distaste in the "normal" population, and have become a persecuted underclass. Alex's journey from self-absorbed scientist to social activist, through the medium of his humiliating Omnifix transformation, is effectively portrayed.

The action-packed narrative feels a bit too stripped-down at times, as if the author were impatient to get past a particular spot in the book; this is especially true of Alex's exploration of the alien weapons platform, which is full of fascinating details on which the reader wants to linger but Mackay apparently didn't, and of the ending, where too much action is compressed into too few pages. Overall, though, this is an enjoyable and entertaining novel, featuring interesting speculation and touching upon intelligent themes.

Copyright © 2004 Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel, The Burning Land, is available from HarperCollins Eos. For more information, visit her website.


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