Okay, having already recommended two of Linda Nagata’s books, Vast and Edges, I finally got around to reading the first and second book of her Nanotech Succession series. (I haven’t read the “zeroeth” book so this recommendation doesn’t include it.)
The first book, The Bohr Maker, takes place a few centuries in the future on Earth and in the solar system. As in the other books, mind copying is an available technology. People can grow new bodies, send copies of themselves (called “ghosts”) to do things, and have those ghosts return and reintegrate memories with their main copy.
However, at this point in the future history, humanity is ruled by a government known as the Commonwealth, which is controlled by religious conservatives. (Although the religion is more of a Gaia mother-Earth, nature type religion rather than an Abrahamic faith.) Adherence to religious precepts makes the Commonwealth hostile to many types of technology, including anything too posthuman, particularly artificial intelligence that is too much like humans.
As it turns out, the main character, Nikko Jiang-Tibayan, is an artificially created human. In order to create him, his “father” had to agree to give him a limited lifespan. At the start of the book, Nikko’s time is almost up. His only chance to continue existing is to acquire a forbidden nanotechnology called “the Bohr maker”.
Much of the book involves Nikko’s schemes to acquire this technology, and the complications that ensue, including entangling a desperately poor woman named Phousita, who becomes infected with the forbidden nanotech, and subsequently a focal point for powerful interests and Nikko himself.
The book has a healthy dose of action with plenty of twists and turns. I found it the best book in the series.
In Deception Well, thousands of years have passed since the first book. Humanity has spread to the stars. (Albeit slowly since FTL is not possible in this universe.) As I discussed in my write-up for Vast, humanity has also come under attack from alien robotic craft, which humans have named the Chenzeme. The story takes place in a solar system protected from the Chenzeme by an artificial nebula filled with alien nanobots. The system has one planet, called Deception Well.
In orbit of Deception Well is a large ring shaped Chenzeme craft, called a Swan burster, a type of craft known for attacking planets and making them uninhabitable. The craft appears to be dead, disabled by the alien nanotech in the system. The first colonists to Deception Well, who came to study the Swan burster, built a space elevator up from Deception Well, with a city at the midpoint along its length, called Silk. Something killed the first colonists. The cause is thought by the characters in the story to have been a plague from Deception Well itself, a soup of alien nanotechnology.
The second wave of colonists, arriving centuries later, are refugees from a world destroyed by the Chenzeme. Finding the dead city, they inhabit it, but wary of the plague from Deception Well, stay away from the planet itself.
The main character, Lot, is the son of a leader named Jupiter. Jupiter leads an invading army from another system, who attempt to conquer Silk in order to go down to Deception Well and achieve “communion” with the planet’s nanotech. The invasion is defeated, Jupiter goes missing, and Lot grows up a prisoner in Silk, convinced that Jupiter made it to the planet and is waiting for him.
Lot inherits from Jupiter an ability to chemically influence people, an ability that essentially makes people see him as charismatic, which becomes a major issue in the book.
If you’ve read Vast, then the names Nikko and Lot will be familiar to you. Deception Well sets up the conditions that lead to the situation at the beginning of Vast.
Obviously there’s a lot going on in this book, but I overall found it less satisfying than The Bohr Maker. Often the narrative seemed tedious and the pacing noticeably slow, a criticism of Nagata I’ve seen from other readers, but not one I felt myself until this book. Still, I do recommend reading it if you’re going to read the rest of the series.
As I noted above, I haven’t read the “zeroeth” book of the series, Tech Heaven, and probably never will. Nagata herself didn’t seem to consider it essential, only republishing it belatedly after the others, and the description doesn’t particularly attract me, but it’s worth noting that it exists.
As I noted in my other reviews, Nagata is not known for her fast paced narratives. A lot of this material is more about psychological tension and exploration of heady concepts. She constantly blurs the boundary between technology and biology. If that and relatively hard science fiction meet your tastes, I highly recommend the overall series.