Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Bugs in the system

Can we talk about nanotechnology?

Seriously, when is it ever a good idea. It's as bad as anything that starts out with "on a routine salvage mission." Do not ever go on a routine salvage mission (especially not if Ludacris is playing a supporting role) because you are going to end up with alien eggs in your torso, or being chased by a flash-frozen Dracula, or something. Or with flash-frozen Dracula eggs in your torso, I don't know.

Anyway! Agh, nanotechnology, right? Steven Gould's 7th Sigma is set in a futuristic American Southwest, where tiny, self-replicating, solar-powered bugs devour anything metal, and if you're unfortunate to accidentally step on one and damage it, the otherwise more-or-less peaceful bugs turn into a fatal swarm and will straight up perforate you.

7th Sigma is an uneasy blend of science fiction and coming-of-age story, and although Gould's little bugs are pretty neat, Sigma gets tripped up by a one-dimensional hero straight out of a spaghetti Western.

Orphan(ish) Kimble hooks up with Ruth Monroe, an out-of-work sensei headed to a settlement to start her own dojo. In exchange for food and lessons, Kimble helps Monroe establish her school in the scrubby desert near the Rio Puerco, but Kimble technically still has one living parent, which makes him a runaway. When an inquisitive Ranger shows up, Kimble cuts a deal to work as an informant in exchange for the Ranger's silence. Kimble would be more interesting if he wasn't always self-consciously Doing The Right Thing, which gets boring after a while, and most of the action seems to take place off the page, which scatters the narrative. Gould also gives the reader an intriguing glimpse into what may be the next stage of the bug's development, but doesn't pursue it any further.

7th Sigma is a neat little novel, if you can get past the unrelenting optimism. Tor is quickly becoming one of my favorite publishers, both for the diversity of their authors and their beautifully designed cover art.

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