This is the third installment in my retro-reviews of the work of Linda Nagata. This retro review is from September 26, 2012.
Again, the link is to the Kindle edition of the work which has been slightly revised from the edition I reviewed.
Review: Deception Well, Linda Nagata, 1997.
This is the third part of Nagata’s Nanotech Succession, but you can dive right into the series with this book, particularly if you’ve already read Skye Object 3270a which, in some ways, it resembles – though this is a far more complicated and ambitious book.
Like that novella, this is the story of a young boy, here Lot, who lives on Silk, an orbital settlement connected by sky elevator to Deception Well, a world with a very complicated and mysterious ecology.
This story is set earlier so even less is known about Deception Well. It is the destination of a starship manned by a cult centering around Jupiter, a man who has, in Nagata’s most inventive idea in a novel full of invention, a strange biochemical ability to sense and manipulate the emotions of others. The Silkens defeat Jupiter’s attempt to go to Deception Well, a world they fear because it wiped out the original settlers of Silk. Some of the cult members are assimilated into Silken society, and the novel follows one in particular.
Lot, son of Jupiter, has inherited his peculiar charismatic quality. But Nagata doesn’t give us the stereotypical science fiction story of the poor-oppressed-orphan-with-the-strange-talent-who-is-persecuted-but-is-really-the-savior-of-his-people plot. There’s good reason to fear his talent, especially when he begins to foment revolt amongst the “ados” (non-voting citizens less than a 100 years old). And he also begins to suspect, as he questions Silkens and ex-followers of Jupiter, there is more to his father and his past then he knew. There’s also his friend Urban, another not altogether sympathetic character. Peculiarly immune to Lot’s charisma, he likes the potential for power being so close to Lot confers.
Of course, events do lead down to Deception Well, a world haunted by various figures, including, perhaps Jupiter – who is supposed to have died on the world. Besides the big mystery of Deception Well and Jupiter, there are other mysteries involving the sentient weapon system orbiting the same sun as the Well and the fate of Silk’s original creators. And, infusing everything, is the shadow of the alien Chezeme, a seemingly extinct race whose sentient weapons prowl for their ancient foes and still catch humans in their cross-fire. And those weapons can take some surprising forms.
I’ve read this novel once and skimmed it a second time. I’m still not sure I quite understand everything that happened. Nagata doles her answers out sparingly and throughout the novel. This is not a novel to read quickly. Some of the back story is left tantalizingly vague. And the emotion is not pitched at the height of her earlier Tech-Heaven or The Bohr Maker nor are the characters so involving. However, Nagata’s words, when dealing with the big issues of the qualities of consciousness or the type of people a frontier produces, incite the reader to stop and appreciate their odd beauty and powerful truth.
In short, worthwhile as either an entry point or continuation of the series.
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Are you tempted by her recent Red: First List series? I am not a military SF guy so… I am more intrigued by this earlier series you’re dredging up from your files.
I am interested in the Red Trilogy — but I have no idea when I’ll get to it. There’s a couple of other science fiction novels from early in her career that I hope to read too.
I hope Megan at From Couch to Moon posts a review of the Red books.
I think she is an interesting figure. I am guessing that her original books did not sell well enough or something for the major press to keep her… And then she was the first author nominated for a Nebula for an online publication, and then the first nominated for a Nebula for a self-published book (i.e. The Red: First Light before it was picked up by Saga Press (an imprint of Simon & Schuster). But then again, she is light-years ahead of most self-published work due to her editing contacts and knowledge of how publishing works, etc.
Yes, she strikes me, in reading her blog and hearing her interviewed, as being very much concerned with the details of the whole publishing process and also wanting some economic validation, via making some actual money on her work, for her efforts. She has been a groundbreaker in many ways as you mentioned apart from her literary merits.
*The Red: First Light (The Red Trilogy) — sorry, you can edit the previous comment