Recommendation: The Nanotech Succession

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.

7 thoughts on “Recommendation: The Nanotech Succession

  1. Definitely something to check out once I get through my current reading lists.

    I got three episodes into the third season of The Expanse last night. The more I watch the show the more I see them playing fast and loose with orbital dynamics and timing (especially the timing).

    And something I haven’t seen them address is that they’re constantly running around under acceleration for gravity, but that means their speeds get really high, and they’d need to do the same amount of decelerating… which they never show. (And how would that even work given the ship’s design?)

    And that racing yacht… Why did the seats rotate like that? Looked cool, but why would a spaceship have a definite “down”? It’s definitely a superior space show, but they do cut a number of corners and give in to style over substance. (Like those back-lighted panels that show off their gun collection. Great look; makes no sense.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, they are looser than the books, but that’s probably inevitable for TV. In the books, the conceit is that they accelerate for the first half of the trip and decelerate the second half. (Like the old time space operas.) The show has occasionally shown the flip-over, and I remember once or twice them showing a ship approaching a point thrusters first, but they don’t do it as often as we geeks might like.

      I thought they were pretty good on most of the ship designs. The Rocinante, for instance, strikes me as what it would need to be for a ship that accelerates, flips, and then decelerates. Or am I missing something? I can’t remember the details of the racing yacht, so maybe they flubbed that one.

      On time frames, one of the authors mentioned that, even in the books, they’re purposely ambiguous about time frames, and do everything they can to avoid mentioning specific dates, because they don’t want nerds doing the solar system math on planet orbits and positions and pointing out how wrong they are.

      The big compromise, as we’ve discussed before, is the Epstein drive, a fusion drive that works more efficiently and powerfully than fusion probably ever will. Although as they get more into the alien systems, they hide more and more behind Clarke’s third law.


      1. “I thought they were pretty good on most of the ship designs.”

        Agree. The Rocinante, if I understand, is “vertically” organized with decks stacked along the length of the ship (i.e. lower decks in the stern, upper decks in the prow).

        So, if they flip and decelerate, does the ceiling become the floor?

        Or are the decks sideways, like the Enterprises?

        I only recently really caught on about (what I think is) the vertical stacking. It was the episode where they fight the protomolecule being in their cargo deck that did it.

        “I can’t remember the details of the racing yacht, so maybe they flubbed that one.”

        It kind of had a fighter plane configuration in being a two-seater with one seat behind the pilot seat. But the seats were suspended on rotational bearings that allowed them to rotate along the main axis of the ship.

        Suggesting there was a “up/down” orientation (as with a plane). But because we’re “IN SPACE” and the ship might have any orientation, the seats can rotate for the proper “down” …

        Which makes no sense whatsoever. Looked cool as hell, but why can’t the ship rotate? Why in the world do the seats rotate relative to the ships orientation? I can’t think of any reason other than it looked cool.

        “On time frames, one of the authors mentioned that, even in the books, they’re purposely ambiguous about time frames,”

        Ha, sensible choice! I meant that more in the sense of parallel events. On one timeline it seems like days have to pass, but on an apparently parallel timeline, the time is much shorter.

        But then outcomes end up being at the same time, so it feels wrong to me sometimes.

        Travel times, especially, seem greatly compressed. I don’t care how fast it was moving, Eros couldn’t get to Earth, and then Venus, in the time they showed. I’m not even sure the implied time was enough for light speed.

        True about the Epstein drive. I guess that’s their main gimme. And, yeah, the protomolecule is definitely starting to look a little magical. (I’m up through season 3, episode 3. Ten more to go!)


        1. Most of the ships are vertically oriented. I describe them as being organized like a skyscraper, with the engines at the bottom. So down for the crew ends up almost always being toward the engines. In the first half of the journey, the accelerating half, down points toward where they departed from. In the second half, after they’ve flipped, down points toward their destination. But for the crew, under burn, down is always toward the engines.

          Unless the ship is in free fall and spinning lengthwise, then down is toward the outer hull. Some of the ships, notably the Behemoth, have rotating habitats. And of course, when in free fall, the show has the characters using mag boots, giving the impression that down is still toward the deck. You can usually hear the sound of the boots when they’re in that state, although most people probably don’t notice it.

          I think the show omits a lot of time from the narrative. So a lot of the time Eros spent moving toward the inner planets isn’t shown. In the book, the event was a course correction from Earth to Venus at the last minute it was possible, but the show probably showed Earth in sight to make it more tense, sacrificing scientific accuracy for drama.

          Big things happen in the rest of season 3!


          1. “But for the crew, under burn, down is always toward the engines.”

            D’oh! Yes, of course it does. Brain fart on my part.

            “You can usually hear the sound of the boots when they’re in that state, although most people probably don’t notice it.”

            Yep, I have. They’re pretty good about that. I didn’t realize they had mag gloves, too, until I saw a character use them to save her ass (the Martian Marine on Mao’s yacht). (Although, now that I say that, I think Amos used them, too, one time.)

            “I think the show omits a lot of time from the narrative.”

            As you say, for dramatic effect. (And because space travel is kinda boring. 2001 showed it as a graceful wonderful ballet, and that’s fine for a Kubrick film, but not so much a TV show.)

            I don’t really begrudge them any of that. It just plays a little havoc with my sense of timing sometimes. :O

            Liked by 1 person

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