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Brain Plague (Elysium Cycle) Hardcover – August 12, 2000

4.2 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews
Book 4 of 4 in the Elysium Cycle Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Slonczewski adds a new chapter to her evolving saga of the pangalactic Fold (The Children Star; A Door into Ocean; Daughter of Elysium) with this provocative if coolly clinical meditation on nanotechnology, artistic creativity and godhood. On Valedon, a planet of genetically modified humans, struggling artist Chrysoberyl of Dolomoth (Chrys to her friends) agrees to be colonized by Eleutherian micros, an accelerated culture of sentient cells salvaged from an assassinated colleague. The micros, which infiltrate her body and communicate with her neurally in the voices of Old Testament supplicants praying to their god, initially mean nothing to Chrys but a full bank account and full health insurance. But soon they are enhancing her art, serving as collaborators and subjects and garnering her a commission to design the planet's first new city in centuries. Inevitably, the replicating micros breed rebellious individuals who challenge Chrys's divine infallibility. For all its innovations, the novel features its share of clich?s (the archetypal avant-garde art scene Chrys belongs to; the medieval character of micro society) and grows repetitive in its chronicle of Chrys's periodic purges of blasphemous micros and her endangerment by infected slave carriers. Slonczewski shows imaginative breadth of vision in her depiction of nanotechnology's pervasive impact on Fold civilization, however, and her narrative, though hip-deep in biotech jargon, is rich in subtle analyses of the relationships between individuals and societies, art and life, the organic and inorganic, health and disease, free will and personal responsibility, and spiritual and scientific aspirations. (Aug.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

To enhance her art and protect herself from the deadly microbial brain plague affecting her world, Chrysoberyl agrees to act as host for a colony of beneficial microbes"only to find that the tiny creatures inhabiting her body have their own agenda. Set in the same universe as A Door into Ocean and The Children Star, Slonczewski!s latest novel examines the creative process through the mind of a woman caught up in the temptation to play God to her inner voices. The author blends a quirky humor with deep insights into the human mind in a mesmerizing story that belongs in most sf collections.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Series: Elysium Cycle
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; 1st edition (August 12, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312867182
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312867188
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,931,118 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Joan Lyn Slonczewski is a microbiologist at Kenyon College and a science fiction writer. She is the first since Fred Pohl to earn a second John Campbell award for best science fiction novel, "The Highest Frontier" (2012); her previous winner was "A Door into Ocean" (1987). "The Highest Frontier" invents a college in a space habitat financed by a tribal casino and protected from deadly ultraphytes by Homeworld Security. According to Alan Cheuse at NPR, her book invents "a worldwide communications system called Toy Box that makes the iPhone look like a Model-T Ford."

Slonczewski's classic "A Door into Ocean" depicts an ocean world run by genetic engineers who repel an interstellar invasion using nonviolent methods similar to Tahrir Square. In her book "Brain Plague," intelligent microbes invade human brains and establish microbial cities. She also authors with John W. Foster the leading microbiology textbook, Microbiology: An Evolving Science (W. W. Norton).

Author blog: ultraphyte.com

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
When I read about this book I wanted to pick it up, just to see how the author incorporated the idea of an intelligent microbe race living in the minds of other intellgient beings. The microbes live in the brains of intelligent beings (as hosts) helping them to become better artists, smarter, etc. I found it a fascinating concept! The main character in the book is called the God of Mercy by her microbes because she tries to treat them fairly. It is a good book, with many new ideas. It is like having an entire civilization living in your brain... and you can imagine what that might mean. The microbe "Characters" have personalities and drives just as we do which makes each new generation (the mircobes have a much shorter lifespan than we do)different. The blink of an eye for us may be a month for them. I recommend this book for its ideas and mystery... some people do not do well with the microbes.. there is an underground.. certain people have addictions. A good book all the way around... and different. I believe Joan (the author who is also a biologist) is a good writer and has incorporated some great ideas in the very interesting novel.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
What if there were intelligent microbes? What if they could communicate with us? What if they could inhabit the human brain and offer to enhance our mental capacity? Would you accept the offer? Once accepted, what could keep the microbes from doing with you as they please?
These are the complex and puzzling issues raised in Joan Slonczewski's latest novel Brain Plague. In the far future, humanity has spread throughout the galaxy. In addition to normal humans, there are "elves" (genetically engineered near-immortals), simians (human/ape hybrids), sentients (artificial intelligences), and a variety of other creatures (including organic, self-aware buildings who negotiate rental agreements with their tenants).
Despite the advances of technology, all is not well in the universe. Humans still suffer addictions and homelessness. Violence still occurs all too often. And in the background, a terrible plague has been raging through space - a "brain plague" in which intelligent "micros" invade human hosts and turn them into slaves. But just like human beings, there are good micros and bad ones. The good ones are part of a carefully monitored program in which human hosts are matched with colonies of microbes. The resulting symbiotic relationship provides the microbes with an ideal living environment (and a "god" to worship); it provides the host with the equivalent of a million microscopic parallel processors to apply to any task he or she might imagine.
Chrys, a young and talented (but starving) artist volunteers for the "brain enhancer" program, accepting a colony of microbes. They communicate with her via nanotechnology implanted in her optic nerves.
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Format: Hardcover
In "The Children Star", the preceding novel of this series, intelligent microbes were the solution to a mystery. Here they are the point of departure for an "alien relations" story like no other. We've met all kinds of aliens in science fiction: implacable aliens that wanted only to eat us up, benevolent aliens welcoming us to an advanced galactic civilization, and all manner of dispositions in between. There have been parasites that snatched human bodies, and occasional symbiotes that provided free medical coverage. Joan Slonczewski, with her longtime concern for social and bioethical problems, and her heartfelt championship of universal rights, has cooked up a breed of aliens that maximally perplex both conscience and prudence.
These microbes, you see, are not just intelligent. They are also social, in the way that humans are social (not bees). Individuals retain enough individuality to have clashing wishes and clashing ideologies. So microbial societies develop distinct cultures -- as variegated as human societies. Add to this that they live and die radically faster than humans. For good measure, on their home planet they evolved to colonize non-sentient animals of approximately human scale. So on invading human hosts, their initial impulse is to control these hosts as they would control mindless beasts. In "The Children Star", humans almost decided to wipe them out, but relented because the colonies in some humans developed more symbiotic cultures, with dazzling services to offer.
Now they've been around a while, and human society is caught in a maelstrom. Virulent microbial societies have become a "brain plague", controlling their environments -- their hosts -- in short-sighted, destructive ways.
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Format: Hardcover
While the premise, that of intelligent microbes colonizing human brains, sounds far-fetched, Joan Slonczewski's biology background helps her to make it quite believable. Unlike most science fiction writers that gets so caught up in scientific ideas that they forget to add plot or characterization, Mz. Slonczewski's characterization is excellent and detailed, while her plot is lively and interesting.
While the micobial sub-plots exhibit great depth, the young woman's over-story exhibits "princess syndrome" to some degree, where a young, powerless girl overcomes everything to end up with everything she ever wished for and more. If not for this defect, I would say Slonczeweski was on her way to being an Ursula K. LeGuinn. I'd highly recommend it, especially to young women.
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