Review Date: 13 September 1998

Deepdrive, by Alexander Jablokov
Avon EOS, 1998, $14.00

I've been a fan of Jablokov's ever since reading his first short stories in Asimov's a few years ago. I really liked his first novel, Carve the Sky, which was "baroque" and artsy, and his third novel, Nimbus, a kind of post-cyberpunk story. And I've liked a lot of his short stories.

Deepdrive is his latest. It's an Avon EOS hardcover, and I'd like to praise Avon for their practice of publishing lower-priced books. Their pbs have been $3.99, and now I've seen a couple of hc's, in smaller packages, for about $15. I think this is a good approach.

Deepdrive itself is set in a busy, well-imagined future. The solar system is occupied (mostly benignly: or at any rate humans have adapted) by several different species of aliens: the Bgarth are burrowing on Venus, assisting with its terraformation; the Gunners are on Mercury, shooting at the Sun; the Ulanyi are on Earth, living in symbiotic relationships with nomadic human tribes. And there are plenty more. But none of the aliens will give humans the secret of the "deepdrive", which allows faster than light travel. An alien from another species, the Vronnans, has showed up, apparently a refugee from his own people, and he is holed up on Venus. Rumor says he wants to be rescued, and he might have something important, even a deepdrive, to trade. Sophonisba Trust assembles a team, somewhat ad hoc, to go after the Vronnan. The novel follows her and the members of her team, as well as the Vronnan, as a series of disasters propels them willy nilly towards learning more than they might want to know about Vronnans, the lost Martian slowship interstellar expedition, their own motivations, and how Ulanyi, Gunners, and other aliens tie into this. And also, maybe, the secrets of the deepdrive.

It's all pretty cool, and well-imagined, distinctly "Sterlingesque" (particularly reminiscent of some Shaper-Mechanist stuff, like "Swarm"), and certainly exciting, and yet ... It never quite won me over. I dunno why. Maybe it was too hard to follow all the threads. Maybe I didn't quite believe in most of the characters (Soph was well done, also her ex-husband Lightfoot, but I was never convinced by the beautiful lesbian Ambryn Chretien or the big bodyguard Elward Bakst, both of whose motivations and abilities seemed to change to whatever the plot required). But, I'm sort of worried, is my "Sense of Wonder" dulling? What I mean is, I think maybe 20 years ago all the cool stuff, the aliens, the biotech, the plots within plots, would have overwhelmed me and carried me along. And it didn't do that for me now.

On balance, I'd still recommend Deepdrive. But I can't give it full marks.

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