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Inherit the Earth
Brian Stableford
Tor Books, 320 pages

Inherit the Earth
Brian Stableford
Brian Stableford was born in 1948 at Shipley, Yorkshire. He graduated with a B.A. in Biology from University of York going on to do postgraduate research first in Biology then in Sociology. In 1979 he received a D. Phil. Until 1998 he worked as a Lecturer in the Sociology Department of the University of Reading. Since then he has been a full-time writer and a part-time Lecturer at several universities.

Brian Stableford Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Jean-Louis Trudel

This is science fiction as it should be. A gripping plot and what feels like a plausible view of what the future may bring.

For several years now, Brian Stableford has been exploring the many splendors and horrors of a future in the grip of a genetic engineering revolution. His collection Sexual Chemistry envisioned various possible futures influenced by biotechnology. This new novel by the veteran British writer is yet another look at the same subject, con brio.

In the March 1998 issue of The New York Review of Science Fiction, Stableford argued that a new strain of serious science fiction should meld the best traits of early French and English speculative fiction -- to wit, the value put on inquisitiveness in its own right and the importance given to addressing crises in a forthright fashion -- with the storytelling energy and imaginative ambition of American SF. Up to a point, this novel may be intended as a demonstration of the virtues of serious science fiction as Stableford understands the form.

The crux of Inherit the Earth is the control and impact of life-extension techniques. Biotechnology and nanotechnology have combined to reshape the world, cutting the costs of computing power and providing humans with internal technologies that allow their body to endure more and to endure longer than ever before. Before the story begins, the little matter of avoiding a catastrophic population blow-up once life is extended was settled in typical science fictional manner: a convenient plague of infectious sterility reduced population growth and forced the development of artificial wombs, thus putting into place the needed controls on the human ability to reproduce.

So, after the shocks and crises of the 21st century, the survivors of the 22nd century are free to fight among each other to determine who will inherit the Earth. Not unlike Bruce Sterling in Holy Fire, Stableford transposes into the future the embryonic generational conflict of late 20th century industrial societies: the struggle between dispossessed youth and an elder generation gifted with uncounted wealth and the means to prolong life... indefinitely?

The main character, Damon Hart, is the son of the researcher who perfected artificial wombs, thus saving humanity in the face of rampant sterility. He has rebelled and struck out on his own, choosing to invest his talents in virtual reality rather than biotechnology. However, when a shadowy terrorist group strikes at his dead father's memory, Damon is suddenly a valuable pawn in a convoluted plot, compelled to dig into a past he thought he knew and to ask embarrassing questions. Was the sterility plague a tad too convenient? Can even death be faked with sufficiently advanced genetic technology?

The future technologies explored by Stableford -- genetic engineering, nanotech, virtual reality, networked cameras -- are rarely new or original to him, but he incorporates them in a suspenseful tale of ratcheting tension and unexpected curves. Most efficiently, they are used to dissect with scalpel-like precision every dimension of the issue. When technology will deepen the chasms between young and old, individuals and corporations, the bold radicals and the cautious conservatives, will only the latter be able to inherit the Earth? As could be expected, Stableford finds a way to leave those who value unchecked curiosity potentially enough room to play with.

This is as taut a thriller as they come, with enough surprises to stock an entire Hollywood season. Stableford is even kind enough to let us deduce the modus operandi used to achieve the story's most striking instance of future tech subterfuge. Shouldn't we love an author who doesn't insult our intelligence?

Does it, in fact, get any better than this? Why not hope that Stableford is just hitting his stride...

Copyright © 1998 by Jean-Louis Trudel

Jean-Louis Trudel is a busy, bilingual writer from Canada, with two novels and fourteen young adult books to his credit in French. He's also a moderately prolific reviewer and short story writer.

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