Bios by Robert Charles Wilson

To inform my current novel-in-progress, I went to all the vendors at WorldCon, requesting books of biological takeover and spores from outer space. Bios was one of the recommendations.

There is a much more thorough review here, which you might want to look at, since I read Bios with impure motives. This is half-review, half encouragement to keep myself writing.

I was a little blocked on how to proceed with my story, caught in a dilemma of tone and theme. Reading something radically different in tone yet similar in topic, helped me see what I'm not trying to do. Don't misunderstand. I think Robert Charles Wilson is a wonderful writer. His story is deft and I like the way he hints at a greater political universe, while retaining the dramatic tension of a "well-made play." This story has a narrow focus, tight time lines and no way for his characters to escape. His world-building is impeccable. Based on the quality of Bios, I look forward to reading his newest novel, Julian Comstock, set on a kind of Steam Punk Earth.

Bios is a smallish book at 208 pages. It is set in a post-plague future, where mankind has spread to Mars and several small "Kuiper" colonies to survive. These rebellious post-Earth settlers are forced to work with each other and with surviving Earth humans on Isis. This post-colonial relationship breeds resentment and economic politics, side conflicts which enrich the classic main conflict: Man versus the environment.

Isis appears to be a planet of jungle paradises, snow-capped peaks and clear water. It is the landscape Zoe has been cloned, surgically upgraded and trained to study. Her cheerful loyalty to the "Family," a dynasty which controls much of Earth, is maintained by an internal hormone regulator. Part of the emotional interest in this book comes from an act of sabotage. A surgeon, in an act of rebellion, removes Zoe's "thymostat," on the eve of her launch to Isis.

On Isis, the microbes have evolved to be so aggressive, a breath of the air liquifies a human in minutes. This high toxicity makes the planet a profitable pharmacopoeia. Unfortunately, the outside life is starting to find it's way into the research stations.

Zoe, with her upgraded immune system and superior exploration suit, looks like she can survive this bios on her own. She is so confident, she interacts with the dominant life form, a social insectoid which reminds her of humans. This mistake, based on human prejudices, allows her to discover the spiritual secret of Isis: intelligent life in the rest of the universe is radically different from that on Earth.

I have to recommend Bios. It's a page-turner that constructs a unique and compelling fictional world.

Happy reading.

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