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Slant
Greg Bear
Tor Books, 505 pages

Cover art: Jim Burns Slant
Greg Bear
Greg Bear was born in San Diego, California, in 1951. With a father in the navy, Greg Bear had travelled to Japan, the Philippines, Alaska and all over the US by the age of 12. At 15, he sold his first story to Famous Science Fiction and in 1979 he sold his first novel, Hegira, to Dell. His awards include Nebulas for his stories "Hardfought," "Blood Music" and "Tangents" and one for his novel, Moving Mars (1993), plus Hugos for his stories "Blood Music" and "Tangents." As an illustrator, Bear's artwork has appeared in magazines such as Galaxy and Fantasy & Science Fiction along with a number of hardcover and paperback books. He was a founding member of ASFA, the Association of Science Fiction Artists. He did the cover for his own novel, Psychlone, from Tor. Heavily involved with SFWA, Greg Bear co-edited the SFWA FORUM, chaired the SFWA Grievance Committee, served as VP for a year, and President for 2 years.

Greg Bear Website
ISFDB Bibliography
Review: Dinosaur Summer
Review: Foundation and Chaos

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Alexander von Thorn

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A new class of pharaohs grasps at immortality from cryogenically-frozen capsules in a new-age high-tech pyramid. Then as now, tombs of the powerful attract sight-seers, vandals, and grave robbers. Performers commit pornography of the soul, sharing their sexual and emotional experience with an audience of millions through a direct neural link, the Yox. A billionaire breaks into a therapist's office and begs, then demands help, ultimately resorting to threats. The therapist refuses. The billionaire is murdered. A silicon-based artificial intelligence encounters a being even stranger than herself. A victim of botched nanosurgery is covered with extra genitalia until the nanotech "cooks" her. And then it gets weird.

The surfeit of cryptic jargon, the dark cynicism and political allegory, the motif of mutilation, of direct neural interface to universes of information -- William Gibson pioneered this territory in the 80s. Throw in dollops of online banter at the beginning of chapters and this story is reminiscent of a Shadowrun novel. Which is too bad, because the author is writing as much in the tradition of Aldous Huxley and Alvin Toffler as William Gibson. This novel is filled with profound ideas and striking images.

Slant is set in a dark utopia. This is a world where disease is a thing of the past, famine and true poverty unknown, violence, depression, dysfunctional behaviour, even cosmetic flaws are erased with a wave of nanotechnology and deep therapy. The setting is not one being changed by nanotech, it's a place that has already been transformed. Immortal, virtual, and imaginary celebrities emerge from the vaults of entertainment studios to hold popular attention for all time. Trouble is, in a post-industrial post-scarcity economy where machines can satisfy every need, people who in ages past would have formed the working class simply have no role at all. They become disaffected, having nothing to do but submerge themselves in the Yox.

In this brave new world, a new elite has emerged. In a world where people routinely transform their bodies and minds to adapt, people who are able to cope without therapies and enhancements have an advantage; their experiences and insights remain original in a world where the thoughts and experiences of the masses are shaped by commercial datastreams. Inevitably, some of these "naturals" conspire to return civilization to the good old days before humanity, as they see it, is merged into a collective consciousness that no longer has the ability to create original ideas. They manage to incorporate a flaw into the trillions of nanotech devices that have changed people, so that those devices simply expire in a catastrophic variant of the Y2K problem. People begin breaking down as physical and mental enhancements they have relied on now malfunction.

Aside from an excess of jargon, the only real complaint I have about this book is that the climax is so huge and ties together so many threads that it takes a long time to resolve, more than 150 pages. But overall this is a very impressive work. The jargon makes it look a bit cliché, but that is deceptive, because unlike so many other cyberpunk books that just slap different labels on the same ideas, the neologisms in this book reflect genuinely fresh concepts. What makes the story hard to follow at times is not just the diction but the sheer density of new ideas.

Greg Bear, recently selected as Author Guest of Honour for the World Science Fiction Convention in Philadelphia in 2001, shows himself a master of innovative thought and predictive science in the best tradition of science fiction. Storytelling helps explain who we are, but science fiction helps explain who we might become. Slant, a story about people changed by technology, will change readers, not only in their perception of the world around them, but also in their knowledge of themselves. Read it, if only to keep up.

Copyright © 1998 by Alexander von Thorn

Alexander von Thorn works two jobs, at The Worldhouse (Toronto's oldest game store) and in the network control centre of UUNET Canada. In his spare time, he is active in several fan and community organizations, including the Toronto in 2003 Worldcon bid. He is also a game designer, novelist-in-training (with the Ink*Specs, the Downsview speculative fiction writing circle), feeder of one dog and two cats, and avid watcher of bad television. He rarely sleeps.


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