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Tony Daniel
HarperCollins EOS, 437 pages

Gregory Bridges
Tony Daniel
Tony Daniel grew up in Alabama and went to Washington University in St. Louis. There he studied English and got an M.A., then to L.A. for USC film school. He dropped out to become a writer. Later, he lived on Vashon Island, near Seattle, for a few years. After spending a year in Praha, Eastern Europe, he moved back to assorted places in the U.S. -- California, New York, Alabama then New York again. He has written a number of novels including Ascension and Warpath.

Metaplanetary Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Robot's Twilight Companion
SF Site Review: Earthling

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

If I were to "blurb" Metaplanetary, I'd describe it as "Heinlein meets Gibson and Stephenson, with a dash of Tom Robbins." Which I think might give a better hint of what's in store beyond the subtitle, "A Novel of Interplanetary War." While Tony Daniel employs the typical space opera clichés -- standing in the way of a megalomaniacal dictator bent on worlds domination is an outnumbered band headed by an unorthodox military veteran; meanwhile, a precocious pre-adolescent saved by the resistance from concentration camp internment seeks to rescue an imprisoned parent -- he marries this with speculations about how quantum physics, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence might affect human evolution in ways that significantly expand and refresh these hoary tropes.

Regular Asimov's readers will recognize the opening prologue of Metaplanetary as basically Daniel's novella "Grist," first published in December 1998. The title refers to a bioengineered substance that permeates the solar system, providing a "World Wide Web" by which people can both communicate with one another and fabricate requested materials instantaneously on demand. Sort of like thinking that you'd want a book listed on and having it materialize on your nightstand. The grist is accessed by a human's convert portion -- a computing function hard wired into the personality -- permitting interaction in a virtuality with, among other things, purely artificial software constructs that enables not only relationships but procreation!

And that's not even the weird part. What really makes Daniel's world building unique is his conception of "The Met" -- a system of spider web-like cables in space that connect the planets orbiting the Sun within the ring of the asteroid belt. These cables provide a means of transportation that bypasses the need for vehicular space travel. Don't laugh, because Daniel comes up with explanations rooted in quantum physics for this infrastructure that for all I know can actually be taken seriously.

He who controls the Met, controls the connected planets. But those planets outside the asteroid belt field, which presents an impenetrable barrier for the cables to snake through, represent a wild frontier that can only be conquered via the more conventional spaceship shoot-em up. Needless to say, there's a band of rebels that isn't going to stand for this. And with some help from a conclave of cloudships (humans who have evolved into vast spirals capable of interstellar travel -- like I said, not your average space opera), manage to beat off the initial invasion force.

There's much to think about here (and there's a lot more I haven't even touched upon, such as the character who seems to exist simultaneously in the past and future and is somehow central to determining the outcome of the planetary civil war). At times, there's a bit too much, as multiple, sometimes seemingly disconnected, storylines drop in and out of the main narrative thread in ways that can be disorienting. Indeed, as you get through the book and realize that all these various plotlines can't possibly be resolved in the space of the remaining pages, it dawns on you that this is a multi-series book (at least one sequel is planned, tentatively called Superluminary). Consequently, a lot of loose ends are left hanging.

Well, some conventions still have to be honoured. I, for one, am looking considerably more forward to Daniel's next installment than, say, the next Star Wars episode. Just hope I can remember everything that's going on until then.

Copyright © 2001 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.

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