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The Terraformers
by Annalee Newitz

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted January 22, 2023

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I received an advance ebook of Annalee Newitz's third novel from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. The Terraformers will be published January 31. One of the techniques/technologies the terraformers use is called a trellis, grown from organic sources, which upon completion of the growth cycle becomes hardened and cured, then becomes the basic framework for most of the buildings. Since this novel is one of the best examples of the need for the reader to employ the "suspension of disbelief," I think the trellises are a good way to approach this review. I will give you the basic structure of the story, but the finished design will have to be created in your own imagination, because to reveal too much would be to ruin the richness of the story, which I do recommend. I may not even tell you about any of the characters, and will limit discussion of plot, mainly due to the vast timeframe the story encompasses.

There are less than a handful of characters that are in the three sections, but you might wonder how that could be when I tell you the book covers over 1600 years. All of the hominims (not just homo sapiens) are bio-engineered for not only long life, but also have implants and nanobots that inhibit disease, and promote healing from accidents. The book starts in the year 59006, but that is not CE or AD, or however you normally note the current year. Instead, the Year 0 was related to one of two different events on Earth, although I'm not sure how far into our future they occurred. The first was known as the Farm Revolutions, the other The Great Bargain. To put it as simply as I can, those events established the "humanity" of both animals and robotic constructs. Animals are also bio-engineered, and receive many of the same, or at least similar, implants as do humans. Some animals and almost all robots can speak, and even for those that don't, their brain structure has been altered to allow them to "think to text." But it's not the utopia you might imagine from those few facts, since there is always a hierarchy of power and privilege, from governments, corporations, and other bureaucracies. There are classes and sub-classes of hominims, some being no more than indentured servants, although they might eventually work their way out of that situation. "Blesseds" are created for a specific task, their brain structure not allowing them to even think or talk about anything unrelated to that task.

All of the action takes place on the planet Sask-E (Sasky), Sask-A being that system's sun. The terraforming is managed by the Verdance Corporation, designer of the enviromental templates, and manager of various engineering teams. Somewhat independent of Verdance, but also subject to their rules and regulations, are several ERT units, Environmental Rescue Teams. Once the process is nearing completion, Verdance sells property rights to developers, and therein lies the major conflicts. ERT wants to maintain a certain balance in the ecosystem, but developers have other ideas. Part 2 starts 700 years after the end of Part 1, but the majority of those years are skipped over. The character I assumed would be the main one throughout does not survive to Part 2, although they almost made it, dying at about the age of 1200. Their legacy did live on, in both positive and negative ways. Even though several different developers were granted contracts, they were eventually bought out by the Emerald Corporation, whose tactics were the direct opposite of what ERT wanted, and they even went against some of the terms Verdance had thought were in the contracts. Part 3 is about the pushback from many groups against Emerald, which begin mainly as protests similar to quarrels between management and labor, or tenants against an abusive landlord, but builds towards outright war. Organization between multiple groups, aided by an investigative reporter who digs up dirt on Emerald, saves the day. At the end of this book that is, no telling how long that might last.

I assume this is a standalone novel, as were the first two by Newitz, which brings me to my only complaint. I wish there were more standalones, but sometimes a story deserves a more expanded treatment. Each part could have been one book in a trilogy, even if all of the 700 years between Parts 1 and 2, or the 900 years between 2 and 3, were not fully explored. I mainly miss not knowing more of the life of that first main character. Otherwise it is a satisfying, if sometimes confusing, adventure. I have no idea who or what comprised the author's influences, but I thought about things from Cordwainer Smith's Underpeople, to Orwell's Animal Farm, along with any number of robotic revolutions, and I think I have a good idea which of Miyazaki's films is Annalee's favorite. Or maybe it was just the most recent they had rewatched. I didn't think about it when reading, but later when I was trying to decide how to review, I thought the Great Bargain makes perfect sense in the context of terraforming, even if it's hard to believe we'll ever get that far. Man alone cannot control the envrionment, or keep ecosystems in balance, because it is too intricate, and takes almost everything else to make it work. Earthworms help keep soil fertile; bees and other insects, as well as birds, are necessary for the pollination of plants. Every plant and animal is necessary to maintain the balance. How better to manage that than to employ those animals and insects in helping to terraform an alien world? Even easier when you can communicate with them. The way would not always be smooth; there would be arguments and different perspectives and agendas, but with the proper respect paid to each individual part, the task might actually be accomplished.


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Annalee Newitz

January 31, 2023

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