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March 2003
2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Steel Helix by Ann Tonsor Zeddies
Del Rey Paperback; ISBN: 0345418735 PubDate Mar 03
Review by Victoria McManus
362 pages List Price: $6.99
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Steel Helix is a rich novel with realistic science-fictional details and a fabulous space adventure plot that speeds along like a racecar. Like Zeddies' previous novels, Typhon's Children and Riders Of Leviathan (written under the pseudonym Toni Anzetti), there's no lack of human characterization, either, even among those who are not strictly human.

Steel Helix follows Piers Rameau, genetic surgeon, after his capture by genetically engineered supermen calling themselves Original Man, or Omo Originale. Rameau, having seen his world destroyed by the Omos, wants only to kill or harm them and their servants in any way possible. But against his will, he is drawn into their society's internal struggles, where shared crises and constant interaction combine to gradually alter his opinions. Rameau overcomes danger and abuse to emerge into self-awareness in a way akin to the Buddhist and Hindu worldviews that survive, in some form, on his home planet, Garuda.

In the universe of the novel, Original Man were the creations of human Kuno Gunnarsson. Gunnarsson had once sought out Rameau to help, but Rameau had turned him down. After Gunarsson's death, the vast numbers of Omos split into two factions, one which follows Gunnarsson's plans for his "children" and one which plans to overrun the worlds of the normal humans, or baselines. Zeddies adds to the mix various humanoids constructed in a laboratory. These transforms possess extensive genetic modifications suitable for specific roles, such as the apelike Rukh for heavy labor and battle. Transforms belong to the corporation that had them manufactured, in a combination of indentured servitude and slavery. Rameau, previous to his capture, was responsible for the care and maintenance of a group of entertainment transforms on a pleasure satellite.

Transforms and their position in society are a vital element of Rameau's character change. Through his memories of the zero gravity dancer Dakini and his experiences with the Rukh, he recognizes some of his own prejudices and selfish choices. Zeddies has a subtle touch with character development that is too often lacking in literature, not just in Science Fiction.

Zeddies gives intriguing flashback glimpses of Dakini, whose bones and body structure are too frail to hold up under even minimal gravity. Rameau's memories of his work on the satellite, and his strong feelings for Dakini, enable Zeddies to construct intriguing contrasts with Rameau's feelings about Original Man. Are they his enemies? Should he kill them or nurture them? Is he responsible at all for their well-being? What will he do when his actions endanger other baseline humans?

I much appreciated Zeddies' intriguing use of stories in the context of the plot. The Omos, at least those after the first few cohorts, have been raised functionally, with no play or entertainment. They quickly grasp the concept of stories and Rameau's ability to tell them. Rameau retells fairy tales at opportune moments, using terms understandable to Original Man, with unexpectedly illuminating results. Not only the Omos but Rameau as well grow and change through thinking about the stories, which adds a metatextual element to the entire novel.

It all adds up to a shining example of the marriage of science and fiction. So go buy this book and read it!

sfr3d.gif (19860 bytes) 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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