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Vast
Linda Nagata
Victor Gollancz, 359 pages


Bob Eggleton
Vast
Linda Nagata
Linda Nagata grew up on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii. She earned a degree in zoology from the University of Hawaii, in Honolulu. Moving on to Maui, she married Ron Nagata where they still live with their two children.

Linda Nagata Website
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Excerpt: Vast
SF Site Review: Vast

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

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Here's a sign that things sometimes go right in the field of international publishing. Linda Nagata's fourth novel, Vast, first published as a paperback original in the United States, has been elevated to the status of hardcover in its first British edition. The treatment is well-deserved.

Set mostly aboard the spaceship Null Boundary, Vast is in essence one long chase scene. The ship and its crew and passengers are fleeing a courser of the Chenzeme. The Chenzeme have attacked and destroyed much of human space, both with ships and a biological weapon known as the cult virus.

The characters in Vast are a rather motley lot. Refugees of Chenzeme attacks, they are united by a desire to survive and to find out why the Chenzeme have attacked humanity. Their relationships form one focus of the novel, as they slowly evolve into a family, even though they all know that one of them is a carrier of the cult virus.

Meanwhile, Nagata keeps everything moving along quickly as the story leaps from one inventive peril to the next. A straight-forward story such as this one can be, in the end, more difficult to pull off than a complicated plot with many twisting story lines. The pursuing courser's presence insures a constant state of tension, but if not handled right, the story could become just one thing after another. Nagata avoids this by varying the difficulties the characters find themselves in, and by contrasting the simplicity of the plot line with the complications in the characters' personal relationships. It provides the novel with an emotional balance and in the end some of the characters' fears are realized, and some of their questions answered.

While it stands alone as a story, Vast is linked to Nagata's previous novels by a shared historical background, and common assumptions about technology. The two main elements are a nanotechnology that is limited both by the skill of the designer and by available resources, and the creation of "ghosts." Ghosts are recorded memories and personalities that can be transferred to another body or kept in electronic storage, granting a limited form of immortality. The interplay of nanotech and ghost technology form the basis for not only the characters physical actions, but their social relationships as well. It's a characteristic of any good science fiction writer to be able to take one or two good ideas and create a whole world out of them. With Vast, Linda Nagata does exactly that.

A hallmark of science fiction in the 90s has been the revitilization of what is starting to be referred to as hardcore SF. Big artifacts and stories covering thousands of light-years and millions of regular years are once again in vogue, with writers using new technologies, better characterization, increasingly sophisticated plots and more interesting prose styles to enhance the same sense of wonder that brought the old space operas to life. If writers like Kathleen Ann Goonan, Iain M. Banks and Stephen Baxter make you think that this is a good time to be a science fiction reader, then you should add Linda Nagata and Vast to your reading list.

Copyright © 2000 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson is convinced that the cult virus is the only possible explanation for the continued popularity of Jesse Ventura as Governor of Minnesota. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.


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