Metaplanetary : A Novel of Interplanetary Civil War by Tony Daniel
Hardcover - 437 pages (April 10, 2001) Avon Books (Trd); ISBN: 006105142X
Review by Dave Goldfeder

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Metaplanetary, the new book by Tony Daniel, poses a reviewerís dilemma. It is a work of definite merit, style, and imagination that I didnít like.

Daniel sets his book 1000 years in the future. Mankind has conquered the solar system. Ships venture to nearby star systems. The planets have been colonized. The solar system itself has been reshaped. Imagine our solar system as a spider web. Beanstalk cables run from planet surface to synchronous orbit. They then join a web of cables that connect all the inner system planets. This interplanetary network, The Met, is a unified polity that reaches out as far as the asteroid belt. The outer planets are the remnant of the Federal Republic whose collapse gave rise to the Met. The Oort Cloud is home to the Cloud Ships, huge, old, and sentient.

The other development required for this world is called Grist. Grist is the ultimate in nanotechnology. In the 24th century, the Unified Field Theory solved the relationship between space, mass, gravity, and time and grist is the engineering application of that science. Nanotechnology machines able to transfer energy and information over distance instantaneously. Applications of grist range from the mundane to the transcendent. You go in to a restaurant and speak your order. The grist in the table forms itself to your place setting and order. It may assemble your meal from normal food or wholly from grist. Your permanent grist coating, your pellicle, connects you to the Met. Think virtual reality combined with the interplanetary, instantaneous, Internet, squared. Large chunks of peopleís lives are spent in this Virtuality. There are, in fact, sentient computer programs that live entirely in the grist of the Met.

Iíve given only the briefest of explanations of the main technical points to the book. Iíve left out several major creations. Daniel would have been much better served by a narrower focus. There is just too much. You can write a classic book about a reengineered solar system, though Larry Niven did a pretty good job of that in Ringworld. You can write cool books about sentient space ships exploring the universe, as Ian Banks and even Anne McCaffery have. You can explore issues of virtual reality artificial sentience. Doing all of that in one book leaves precious little time for plot and character.

The basic plot of this book is very simple. The Director of the Met, Ames, wants to control the human race absolutely. To accomplish this goal, he starts a war of conquest against the outer system. The pressures of war allow him to expand domestic control. This is hardly a unique idea. George Orwell was very explicit about this method in 1984. Daniel expands this concept to the level that his technology allows and by doing so breaks another of my rules for good SF. You need to do things in books that you canít in the movies or television. Ames ultimate goal is the elimination of the individual. The human race as a single organism with a single personality, Ames. Weíve seen this concept before. We are quite familiar with it. We call it the Borg.

Daniel breaks a couple of my rules for good science fiction. When creating a universe, it needs to be either comprehensible or attractive. You need to be able to understand the authorís world or you should want to live there. Both would be better. Danielís Met, to me, is neither.