Thursday, 14 September 2000

Brian Stableford: Inherit the Earth (1998)

Edition: Tor, 1998
Review number: 617

Inherit the Earth is heavily influenced by the cyberpunk subgenre exemplified by the novels of William Gibson: there is the same high tech, decayed urban background; the same cynical view of the world. Stableford's novel (first in a trilogy) is set much further into the future than most cyberpunk has been, after the world has begun to recover following decimation of human and animal populations by genetically engineered diseases in what are known as the Plague Wars. Now the rich (and even, to a large extent) the moderately well off) are protected by biological and microscopic computer hardware augmentations to their natural immune system, and the major concern of the large firms which effectively rule the world is the development of what is known as "emortality", where these enhancements make death only a remote possibility.

Damon Hart is the son of Conrad Helier, whose invention of the artificial womb had made possible the survival of the human race at the end of the Plague Wars. He has rejected his inheritance (both material and intellectual, walking out on the members of Helier's research team who acted as foster parents) to become a knife fighter in underground virtual entertainments (where experiencing the pain of a wound is one of the main pleasures) and then a programmer of virtual environments. He is drawn back into the world of his original background when police come to question him after one of his foster parents has been abducted.

An exciting story with a meticulously constructed background, Inherit the Earth is one of the best science fiction novels I have read in the last few years. It has a broader scope than most cyberpunk novels had, and is rendered more believable for reading now because it extrapolates from current trends in computing rather than those of fifteen or twenty years ago. (Computers and particularly interfaces have developed so fast that they have left science fiction behind - the most dated looking scenes in Star Wars, for example, are those involving computer displays.)

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