Mind Over Ship
by David Marusek
Review by Tom Easton
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765317490
Date: 20 January 2009 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
When I reviewed David Marusek's Counting Heads in 2006, I had a feeling a much fatter book had been cut in two. When I checked his blog, I learned that I was right and a sequel would be along in due time.
Mind Over Ship is that sequel. Not surprisingly, it suffers from the same problems that marred the first half of the story, largely an excess of technological speculation unrestrained by plausibility. In a world filled with an unlikely fifteen billion people, cloning millions of underclass workers or "iterants" seems very unlikely. Relying on nanotechnology assemblers and disassemblers that can make anything the heart desires, repair the body to the point of immortality, and turn the world into grey goo when even nanotechnology's most enthusiastic proponents have stopped talking about such things seems positively quaint.
Be that as it may, Marusek's world is a rich blend of corporate intrigue, violence, technological wizardry, and more. It will make little sense to anyone who has not read the earlier book, in which Eleanor Starke, while in the midst of a virtual meeting to discuss plans for the O-ships (interstellar colony ships some of her rivals want to turn into orbiting condos), is blown up. She's dead, but her daughter Ellen survives, her head severed and frozen in a safety helmet. Much of that book involved the search for the head and the initial attempts to regrow Ellen's body. There were clues that Eleanor's AI or mentar had been corrupted.
Now Ellen, her adult head attached to a child's body, is convinced that her mother is really alive. Eleanor's corporate and political rivals are visibly scheming, as are the mentars, and it seems very likely that one or more was responsible for the fatal disaster. The O-ships are indeed going to be converted to condos, now that Eleanor is out of the way, though her "wild card," Bishop Meewee is doing his best to contain the damage to Eleanor's plans. And one day, while Meewee is throwing rocks into a fish pond, Eleanor speaks to him.
I mentioned technological wizardry, didn't I? Marusek is imagining something beyond the usual business of mental uploads and downloads. That's here, but what, he wonders, if you could combine that with something like distributed or cloud computing, which spreads a task across large numbers of machines spread out in space. It would be great for back-up.
Much of the story is told by and around the iterant characters, ordinary folks next to whom the Starkes and mentars are as gods whose schemes structure the world in which ordinary people must live. And they too have their schemes, some of which threaten the world and the plans of the gods. Watch for a third volume that I'm betting will look at what happens on the O-ships long after they have left Earth behind.