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Natural History (Bantam Spectra Book) Paperback – December 28, 2004

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Product Details

  • Series: Bantam Spectra Book
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Spectra (December 28, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553587412
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553587418
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,575,175 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In Robson's U.S. debut, a thought-provoking SF stand-alone, the British author of Sliver Screen and Mappa Mundi revisits the disquieting territory of Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End. Advances in genetic engineering have created the Forged, human/machine hybrids that carry out tasks too mundane or too dangerous for the Unevolved, as non-Forged humans are called. Soon after a Forged explorer, Voyager Lonestar Isol, returns from a 15-year trip with the Stuff (a sentient chunk of gray quartz capable of instantly transporting her anywhere), Isol announces that she's found an empty Earth-like planet in a distant star system. By claiming it as a home world, the Forged can finally break from the resented Gaiasol, the political entity that rules Earth's solar system, and become what they were meant to be. While many dream of moving out, others suspect that the Stuff's offer is too good to be true. Archeologist Zephyr Duquesnse, commissioned to study the proposed home world and make sure it's truly free of life, finds no easy answers. Fans of the sweeping, politically and psychologically aware space opera of Iain M. Banks and Ken MacLeod will be intrigued by Robson's setting and the new slant she takes on universal questions.
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"Thought-provoking.... Fans of the sweeping, politically and psychologically aware space opera of Iain M. Banks and Ken MacLeod will be intrigued by Robson’s setting and the new slant she takes on universal questions."
--Publishers Weekly

More About the Author

Justina was born in Yorkshire, England, in 1968. After completing school, she dropped out of Art College, then studied philosophy and linguistics at York University. She sold her first novel in 1999. Since then she has won the 2000 Amazon UK Writers' Bursary Award. She has also been a student (1992) and a teacher (2002, 2006) at the Arvon Foundation in the UK, a center for the development and promotion of all kinds of creative writing. She was a student at Clarion West, the U.S. boot camp for science fiction and fantasy writers, in 1996.

Her books have been variously shortlisted for the British Science Fiction Best Novel Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the John W. Campbell Award. An anthology of her short fiction, Heliotrope, was published in 2012. In 2004, Justina was a judge for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, on behalf of the Science Fiction Foundation.

Her novels and stories range widely over science fiction and fantasy, often in combination. She still lives in t'North of England with her partner and three children and a cat.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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I read alot of sci-fi and seldom review them.
The end was very surprising and raised questions about the ultimate purpose of the life of individuals and civilizations.
H. Litsne
Robson is very good at creating sympathetic characters with intriguing, complex backstories.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By lb136 VINE VOICE on April 18, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Voyager Lonestar Isol, as the name implies, fits in nowhere. She's a "forged," genetically modified to perform certain tasks--in her case space exploration. She's a sentient space ship. Peppered by cosmic debris while on a mission she recalls the words to Don McClean's 1971 pop hit, "American Pie," and figures that this will indeed be the day that she dies.

It isn't. Saved by a lump of grey "stuff" that allows instant transportation, apparently (it will become the Maguffin), Isol returns to the earth system and incites various radical elements of the Forged, persuading them they can have a planet of their own. All they have to do is convince the unevolved (i.e., the unmodified Homo sapiens) to let them go.

Enter the archeologist Zephyr Duquesne, who's enlisted by the earth's powers that be (called the Gaiasol), to check the planet out to ascertain there is no intelligent life there.

Off go Isol and Zephyr, back to the planet Zia di Notte, as we follow not only that story but also those of various other characters, Forged and unevolved, all of whom have agendas of their own. Agendas sooner or later revealed.

It's a kick. The author never loses her focus and creates a bravura finale that is both moving and logical.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Colin P. Lindsey VINE VOICE on May 19, 2006
Format: Paperback
I liked this book a great deal and found it to be one of those books that carries you along and keeps you reading page after page. Set in a future where humankind has expanded through the solar system but has not yet discovered FTL travel, science seems to have enabled the creation of new life forms, that house human consciounesses. The life forms, the Forged, are custom designed bodies created to fulfill certain functions, anything from planetoid sized bodies designed to terraform planets, to small sprite sized postal carriers. The Forged, built to perform certain functions, are human beings housed within inhuman bodies. Essentially a new species, created through intellectual evolution, the Forged are set to work under conditions that have parallels with slavery or indentured servitude. Consequently they have started developing political entities like unions and an independence movement. Into these tense conditions comes the discovery of an alien FTL drive by one of the Forged. The story does a good job of developing the consequences of this destabilizing discovery and projects them out into a very enjoyable story.

The story did have some unanswered questions for me, particularly in regards to some of the internal logic regarding the Forged, but all in all it was a very enjoyable read and I would recommend to anyone who enjoys hard science fiction and I will certainly be looking for more works by this author.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Peter D. Tillman VINE VOICE on December 31, 2005
Format: Paperback

Natural History is New Brit Space Opera, a la Banks & MacLeod, and Robson has clearly done her sfnal homework. I particularly liked her elegant use of current M-space theory (the 11 dimensions of branespace) as the physical background for her, um, Stuff....

Her setup, by contrast, is classical: The Forged, vat-born cyborg posthumans who do most of the heavy lifting in the 26th century, are getting tired of kowtowing to the Old Monkeys, the Unevolved guys who created them: us. As the book opens, Voyager Lonestar Isol has just made a disastrous First Contact with a mysterious alien artifact on her way to explore Barnard's Star....

Let us pause a moment, as you will be doing repeatedly as you read Natural History, to digest a bit of what Robson's doing here. "The Forged" -- what a wonderfully two-edged name. Character and artifact names are a Big Deal in her book: The Heavy Angels. Corvax, who was once a Roc. The Abacand® pocket-brains, sentient but not, well, street-smart. The chilly (but polite) Shuriken Death-angel.... Man, I love this kind of stuff. Especially when it doesn't take itself too seriously. She put exploding spaceships in, too.

OK. My point is that Natural History is a book to be savored rather than gulped. Robson's put a lot of hard work, and hard thinking, into her backstory -- but she doesn't spoon-feed the reader (or, worse, drop in great expository lumps) and some readers won't like the extra skullwork they'll have to do to keep up. Well, too bad for them. Robson can write rings around 90% of all the novelists I've ever read, both inside & out of the SF genre.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Y. Alekseyev on January 8, 2007
Format: Paperback
Let me start off by saying that I very much enjoyed this book.

I do, however, wish it was longer. Not because I like long books for their own sake, but because Robson could have done so much more with the material she had. As another reviewer said, the effect of "Stuff" on a society is an interesting study in its own right, but unfortunately Robson's book basically ends just as when we find what "Stuff" is.

The society itself, composed of the Forged (beings with a human consciousness, but created for a certain purpose and therefore in a peculiar, sometimes bizzare, form), and the Unevolved (aka "monkeys"), is an equally intriguing vision. Here, we are given a bit more to chew on, but still I found myself wanting more. The Forged, you see, are humans, with a difference that is very important for philosophical reasons: their Form and indeed their very existence is owed to a certain Function which they were designed to perform. So while ordinary human beings are usually struggling to find their purpose/Function, the Forged are trying to liberate themselves from theirs. Some of them are convinced that they are slaves to the Unevolved for as long as they remain bound to their Form and Function. Others aren't so sure.

To me that seems like a great invitation to pose a question: does having a purpose have anything at all to do with being free, and if so, what? Robson barely touches this complex and deep subject, which is understantable as it might have made the already rich novel simply too rich for public consumption. But I wish she had at least tried: she certainly had the tools for the job right there at her disposal.

The "flight-of-fancy" in the title comes mainly from the only other weakness of this novel: its scientific foundations.
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