30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on October 26, 2001
_Metaplanetary_ is a grand, involving, novel set in 3013 C. E., in a fully colonized solar system which is about to burst into a vicious civil war. It is chock full of neat, if perhaps not always fully plausible (indeed at times quite wacky), SFnal ideas. It managed to excite my somewhat jaded sense of wonder, and it made me care deeply about quite a few characters, and it advances some interesting and worthwhile moral themes. Its main flaw is that it doesn't end so much as stop -- it's part of a two book series (the sequel will be called _Superluminal_), and it really does not stand alone. (This is not indicated on the published book, for which the publisher should be criticized.) Another, lesser, flaw, perhaps, is that the villain is really evil -- no moral ambiguity there.
The solar system in 3000 or so is divided into basically two sections. The inner system, called the Met, consists of the inner four planets, and a gloriously weird system of tubes connecting them, which makes the whole thing look like a spider web, sort of. Many people seem to live in the tubes, or in nodes of the system, called bolsas. Mercury, with all that energy available, is the dominant planet. Earth has been largely returned to nature.
The outer planetary systems have all been colonized, with varying degrees of success. Triton, Neptune's big moon, is one of the most successful colonies. In addition, a number of artificially intelligent ships live permanently in space, particularly the Oort clouds, and they have traveled as far as Alpha Centauri. (These are called cloudships.) The Met doesn't reach to the outer system because the asteroid belt is impractical to cross with the tubes (perhaps due simply to authorial fiat).
Besides the Met, the other key SFnal notion of the book is "grist". Basically, grist is very "smart" nanotech. Most if not all humans have an integrated bunch of grist attached, called a pellicle, which hosts a version of their personality in AI form, called a convert. There are also "free converts", AI's based on scans of human brains but which don't have a biological body. Humans can interact with both free converts and with the "attached" converts of other humans in Virtual space, and all of the system, pretty much, is instantaneously connected by a grist network called the merci. And some humans are what are called LAP's -- Large Array of Personas: they are in essence a network of clones and converts that can be physically and virtually in many places at once.
For the most part, the solar system is in something of a Golden Age. The physical needs of people seem to be well supplied. A critical political issue is the rights of "free converts". Some do not consider them "Human" -- they are just computer programs, in this view, without real free will, without, if you will, "souls". But others, especially in the outer system, regard them as clearly human.
The novel is told from a variety of points of view: a couple of cloudships; a free convert named Danis Graytor; Danis' human husband Kelly; their daughter Aubry (who has a human body but is considered a "half free convert"); an artificial woman named Jill with a body made of grist and a brained based on a ferret's; Colonel Roger Sherman, the military leader of Triton's forces; Sherman's son Lee; Director Ames, the leader of the Met government; General San Filieu, an aging Catalan woman under Ames influence who leads the Met attack on Triton; and more. This gives us a good look at the variety of ways people live in this future, and at what it is like to be a free convert, or a cloudship, or a human with a pellicle and convert attachment, or a LAP. This also helps keep the action moving, important in a fairly long book.
The action of the novel is exciting and fascinating. We see atrocities, such as some clever means of torturing AIs, and a brutal attack on Triton with some scary uses of space tech; and we see heroism in the resistance to these atrocities. We see convincing depictions of sex between humans and AIs, and of alternate means of travel in a physically linked solar system, and of AI entertainment. We get useful glimpses of the history of this future: the young life of Director Ames, the development of the cloudships, the invention of grist and the merci. It's a fairly long book, but never boring.
The main characters are fully rounded. I found the villains interesting, but it must be admitted that they are depicted with rather a broad brush of evil. Daniel gives his different characters and narrators different voices. His prose is generally sound, occasionally lapsing into cliche, but at other times very nice. His scope is vast, and his theme is one of the great SF themes: "What is a human?" He illustrates this nicely with his array of characters of vastly different "shape" or composition; and he metaphorically illustrates even more nicely the associated conflict of viewpoints between individualists and collectivists: hinting by the end at a truly scary collectivist vision. The scary parts of the book are convincing and often quite original, and very scary: and the heroism is moving and believable. I really liked this book.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 2002
I have read a lot of good science fiction lately (see my recent reviews) and this is another fine example. It would make a great movie if done true to this work. The premise of this novel is 'what constitutes a human being' and it is present throughout this book. A civil war erupts in the solar system, and much of this war concerns itself about whether or not intelligent algorithms, that is, conscious computers and/or programs, should be allowed full human rights, or are they just property. And what constitutes human status in the first place, do they have to look like us, and think like us, can they be faster, better, and more rational, than original humans? This novel is set one thousand years into the future with a despot attempting to rule the solar system and impose his will on all.
Tony Daniel illustrates how we come to rely on our technology, and take it for granted, and are at a loss when we lose it. He has a multitude of interesting characters here, all with superb character development, in a complex well written plot, very imaginative in the 'hard' science fiction tradition, and it was hilarious at times. Nanotechnology, which is called grist in this novel, allows many things to become possible, and would seem to be near magic to us here in the early 21st century.
My only criticism for this book is that Daniel has these characters living 1000 years from now in a world where immortality is not quite here yet, give me a break, nanotech should give immortality to us well before then, I do not take a star off my review for this, my opinion. And there is a sequel coming to this novel, called "Superluminal", I look forward to it.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 28, 2004
I knew I was in for a treat with this book after my dad, who has consumed two or three sci-fi novels a week for the past 30 years, handed it to me and said, "You know, just when you think you've read it all, someone comes out with something like this with stuff you've never even dreamed of." Sure enough, Daniel has spun an incredible tale stuffed with mind-bending technology and ideas. It is surely one of the best sci-fi books I've read lately.
While some SF authors often base a story around one central idea, this work has enough conceits to fill the dressing room at the Victoria Secret fashion show. He gives us the ubiquitous nanobots known as "grist", and "pellicles", nano-based prosthetics that can acquire their own legal status and civil rights. There is a bizarre if not entirely believeable interplanetary subway system of interlocking organic tubes. And there are the massive thinking spacecraft that have become the bodies holding the minds of their centuries-old human pilots.
Daniel also gives us a good old-fashioned epic tale to chew on, with an ambitious dictator pitted against believers in individual liberty. I sense Daniel has a lot to say on this issue and I hope it is fleshed out in the upcoming sequel, "Superluminal".
One other thing I liked was Daniel's attention to finance and economics through one of the main characters, who is the far future equivalent of a high-powered Wall Street trader, though he deals in things like meson futures rather than the familiar commodities of today. This is a refreshing change from many other sci-fi tales, which tend to paint future economies as mercantilist empires or hyperdemonic capitalism with evil corporations crushing the little guys.
Daniel's skill isn't limited to dreaming up fantastic settings and technology. He is adept at painting his characters in rich colors, and in using them to raise interesting questions of ethics and identity. He manages to elicit empathy for even the oddest of the bunch, such as the financial wheeler-dealer's wife, who is a disembodied AI with no physical features or expressions to describe. Yet Daniel succeeds in making us anxious for her fate as she is ensnared in a move to strip AIs of their civil rights and press them into virtual concentration camps.
Metaplanetary is a worthy investment of time and money, and I have high hopes the sequel will prove just as enjoyable, intriguing and thoughtful.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on April 14, 2003
I bought this book last July. I've read it six times since then. Frankly, I'm fascinated with it.
After reading the other reviews here, I see a few points that are salient: First, that the novel abruptly terminates without wrapping up any loose ends. Unfortunately, it does, but this book was intended to have a companion piece--think Metaplanetary, parts I and II. And a novel on this scale naturally takes a while to write--on the order of three or four years, at least. Second, the lengthy and haphazardly-placed explanations of several fundamental aspects of this society (i.e., the origins of grist, the founding of the society of cloudships, etc.). A few people said that because of this, the novel gives one the impression of being thrown into society with vernacular that's more or less incomprehensible by modern standards. Perhaps so, but if one simply reads the reviews or blurb on the back of the book, it actually mentions the nanotechnological artificial intelligences on which the whole struggle is based. Starting the book with that context in mind may help. Third, the hard-to-follow dissemination of characters. I agree on this point--sometimes, it's difficult to tell who's speaking at what point, but when you contemplate a novel that has a conceptual framework spanning the solar system, a single character is extraordinarily limited. And fourth, the one-dimensionality of the villain. I do agree on this point, but it's only because Ames is a true psychopath--singleminded, relatively emotionless, ambitious, and goal-oriented to the exclusion of everything else. How do you show the "good" side of a villain that doesn't have one?
More or less to wrap up: read the book yourself. Whether or not you're confused or irritated, at least you're not bored.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 15, 2005
An excellent story with some novel (no pun intended) approaches to the space opera genre. Tony Daniel had combined human elements with some fun and interesting scientific principles. This story kicks off a solar-system-wide civil war in a universe where the planets are physically linked together into the "Met".
The entire Met, including the connecting "cables" is populated with multiple billions of people whose lives are in turn interconnected through the nano-quantum material called "grist". Humanity has branched out into various forms including Free Converts - Virtual bodiless people, LAP's - Large Array of Personalities, Cloudships - living comets (for lack of better word) and of course biological humans who are fully integrated with their own convert (virtual) copies as well as the assisting grist pellicle that connects them to the physical and virtual world that dominates the Met.
With characters spread around the solar system, Tony Daniel brings to life a world of intelligent ferrets, mystics, dictators and lovers. Reminiscent of Peter Hamilton and Robert Heinlein, Mr. Daniel brings us a strange new world with fascinating characters and an interesting and plausible storyline. I fully enjoyed this book and recommend it.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
One millennium earth time from now, humanity has colonized much of the solar system. However, a social schism of major magnitude has occurred during the post settlement stages. The inner planets are totally ruled by Ames, the great dictator, who decides what is human and what is fodder especially with the growth of technology such as grist to host an individual's consciousness. On the outer ring, control is totally decentralized as diversity in human form is cherished as it is considered a basic freedom.
As the outer ring begins to head towards other stars, Ames sees an opportunity to gain control of the solar system. With his totalitarian ability to raise troops fast, Ames seems to have a major advantage over the apparently scattered opponent. However, led by Colonel Sherman, the outer ring knows they have everything to lose and draw their line in the sand, ready to risk their lives for freedom.
Though the year is not even half over, METAPLANETARY may be the best science fiction novel of 2001 and will appear on most people's short lists. The story line is fast-paced and filled with action while describing an extremely complex and extraordinary solar system that is actually two competing cosmos. The differences between the inner and outer rings seem like a futuristic Cold War or World War II with totalitarianism vs. freedom on a grander scale. In his third science fiction, Tony Daniel has written a novel that is so exemplary that the author will earn a place among the genre's stars, a rarity based on one book (though the other two are very good too).
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2003
If you ask a gazillion people the same question about this book you'll run the gamut of broad characterizations to whiney nit-picking from self-aggrandized literary critics. For those of you who like a good science fiction novel, and who don't mind spending a few dozen pages figuring out what is what, the book is worth reading. Indeed, I'm back here only because I was looking to see if the next one was ready.
The book was a little over 500 pages, but could have easily been 1000. The author introduced a lot of interesting "what ifs" about the future and the story line kept you hooked once you got going. I don't know if I would recommend this to a casual SciFi reader, but if you enjoy SciFi for what it is - a good story of sufficient complexity without trying to nitpick it to death, then this book is worth your time.
For those of you who use these reviews to rant and rave about "it should have been done this way, or that isn't possible ..." all I can say is - get a life. It's a fricken book. Mr. Daniel, if you happen to read this, thank you for a good story and I'm looking forward to the next one. Feel free to make it 1000 pages, I like a good story to keep going :)
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 12, 2006
The first thing that you should know before picking up this book is that it isn't a stand-alone novel. It is the first book of a trilogy. The second book is called "Superluminary." The third book is called... well I don't know what it's called. Eos apparently declined to pay Mr. Daniel to write the third book, so he understandably hasn't. This is a shame on many levels. This could have been (and hopefully perhaps one day will be) a science fiction epic that might have stood the test of time.
The closest comparison to this book that I have read recently is Peter Hamilton's "Pandora's Star" and "Judas Unchained" duology. This book is filled with hard SF and questions of how humanity will move into the future. It doesn't deal with the singularity at all, but deals impressively with questions of how we will cope when human personalities are no longer confined to their individual bodies. In this book we meet humans who primarily reside in their physical bodies, but with a cloud of nanites (called "grist") to help them with memory and computations. We meet humans who have distributed their personalities between many bodies and the omnipresent grist and are called "Large Array Personalities" or LAPs. There are people who exist only in the grist and are called "free converts" and then the children of "normal" people and free converts who are "half-converts." And let's not forget the cloudships!
We meet a huge cast of characters in this, and start many plot lines. None of them are resolved, as one would expect. Basically, the dictator Amés is starting a war between all the factions of the solar system. His ultimate goal involves uniting all the human personalities existing under one rule: his. To this end he is particularly interested in enslaving all the free converts. The descriptions of his concentration camps and their Mengele-type experiments aren't particularly violent, but they are very disturbing. We also learn the stories of himself, his victims and his opponents, with lots of hard-SF world building and history. This is exactly my sort of thing, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I will read "Superluminary," and then I will join the ranks of those who are really annoyed at Eos for not funding the conclusion of this amazing epic of science fiction.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2004
I'd had this book on the shelf for a long time, so when I picked it up I was expecting pretty standard fare. What I got instead was an absorbing, involved epic on the scale of Dan Simmons' Hyperion series, an excellent blend of space opera and cutting edge cyberpunk with a great deal of humor mixed in. Metaplanetary has a huge cast of characters, all of which you end up caring about to a great extent. There's also evil in the form of Director Ames, a man with ambitions to control not just the real world, but the virtual world as well, which is where a great many of the characters/situations are in this book. The idea of a actual web that connects the planets of the solar system together is fascinating and done very well. Also interesting was how the book would break off to give you historical perspective on some of the gadgets that are part of the universe, very useful information. I was a little confused when it started talking about the "aspect", the "convert" and the "grist pellicule", but it sorts itself out eventually, and you can see where its heading with this triumverate of forces within everyone. Great space battles are fought between kilometers-long starships and living ships borne from comets and asteroids, wonderful images that would make a great movie. Alas, it comes to an end all too quickly, and you have to read "Superluminal", which is the sequel, to get more of the story. Anyone who liked "Hyperion" and the classic "Foundation" novels would love this book.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 12, 2004
Some books are so involved with high tech sci-fi and have such an ensemble of characters over a lengthy period of time within the context of the book's story that some people give up on it or derive a confused notion of the book and its execution. But should one read it twice, if necessary, one would definite come to appreciate it as one appreciates such books as "Stranger in a Strange Land", "Starship Troopers", "Foundation", "Ringworld", and even cyberpunk books like "Neuromancer", "Cryptonomicon", "Cyber Hunter" and others. So I say give this book a chance. It really is good!