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Natural History
Justina Robson
Bantam, 325 pages

Natural History
Justina Robson
Justina Robson lives in Leeds in Yorkshire, UK. She began writing as a child in the 70s. Her short fiction has appeared in various magazines in the UK and the USA. Her first novel, Silver Screen, published in 1999, was nominated for the Arthur C Clarke Award and the British Science Fiction Association Best Novel Award. Her second novel, Mappa Mundi, won the Writer's Bursary.

Justina Robson Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Natural History
SF Site Review: Mappa Mundi
SF Site Interview: Justina Robson

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Peter D. Tillman

Natural History is New Brit Space Opera, àla Iain M. Banks & Ken MacLeod, and Justina Robson has clearly done her science fictional homework. I particularly liked her elegant use of current M-space theory (the 11 dimensions of branespace) as the physical background for her, um, Stuff....

Her setup, by contrast, is classical: The Forged, vat-born cyborg post-humans who do most of the heavy lifting in the 26th century, are getting tired of kowtowing to the Old Monkeys, the Unevolved guys who created them: us. As the book opens, Voyager Lonestar Isol has just made a disastrous First Contact with a mysterious alien artifact on her way to explore Barnard's Star.

Let us pause a moment, as you will be doing repeatedly as you read Natural History, to digest a bit of what Robson's doing here. "The Forged" -- what a wonderfully two-edged name. Character and artifact names are a Big Deal in her book: The Heavy Angels. Corvax, who was once a Roc. The Abacand® pocket-brains, sentient but not, well, street-smart. The chilly (but polite) Shuriken Death-angel.... Man, I love this kind of stuff. Especially when it doesn't take itself too seriously. She put exploding spaceships in, too.

OK. My point is that Natural History is a book to be savored rather than gulped. Robson's put a lot of hard work, and hard thinking, into her back story -- but she doesn't spoon-feed the reader (or, worse, drop in great expository lumps) and some readers won't like the extra skull work they'll have to do to keep up. Well, too bad for them. Robson can write rings around 90 percent of all the novelists I've ever read, both inside and out of the SF genre. She's benefitting from UK bookdom's wise refusal to stuff SF into an airtight box, cut off from the winds of Greater Fiction....

OK, I'm getting carried away here, but this lady can write. Trust me. This is certainly not a perfect novel, and I can (kinda sorta) see why it has taken her awhile to find a US publisher. She's writing for adults, and avoiding the cartoonish simplicity of, well, 90 percent of SF books currently in print. So she's not (sigh) likely to find a mass market -- but for those few brave souls who seek science fiction written with thought and substance, Natural History is for you, me buckos. You know who you are. What are you waiting for?

A measure of Robson's writing skill is my initial encounter with her most fully-realized character, Zephyr Duquesne, a, um..., rather chunky (but delightfully conflicted) Anglo-Jamaican academic. With the prominent cover blurb from Zadie ("White Teeth") Smith, I'm half-thinking, the next Nalo Hopkinson?

Well, no. It is apparent from reading her interview.

Robson's next novel, Living Next Door to the God of Love, is scheduled to be published in the UK and USA in Fall 2005.

Copyright © 2005 Peter D. Tillman

Pete Tillman has been reading SF for better than 40 years now. He reviews SF -- and other books -- for Amazon, Infinity-Plus, SF Site, and others. He's a mineral exploration geologist based in Arizona. Google "Peter D. Tillman" +review for many more of Pete's reviews.

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