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Mistress of Molecules Paperback – July 18, 2009
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About the Author
Gerald M. Weinberg (Jerry) writes "nerd novels," such as The Aremac Project, about how brilliant people produce quality work. Information on more of his books can be found at
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Some of my favorite parts we left out so others could discover them on their own as I did.**
I was intrigued by the description of this book. I was even more pleased to find that one of the main characters, Libra, is a chemist's daughter (as am I). The similarities really end there. Libra is a brilliant girl raised by an alcoholic Mom. She seems to be influenced more by the short video of her father's trial that ended in his death. She's been waiting her whole young life planning revenge against the church (which controls the government) that killed him. She has a clever plan to strike at the industry that pollutes her planet so much no one has ever seen the sun. Helping her is the fact that women on this world are seen only as baby factories without much intelligence. This allows her to keep her father's lab and move around with anonymity. I like how her clever plans have small flaws. It's more realistic and suspenseful.
One thing that interested me was the transformation of religion in this future. Basically, humans have taken small bits out of the texts of most major religions and combined them into one small book. The original texts are locked up tight and most people don't even know they exist.
One common thread in both stories is the Zgaarid. They are a race of aliens who connect many planets via their trade routes. They share just enough of their technology with the people there to allow them to produce what is needed for their home world. They aren't exactly bad but have a limited view of the races and planets they utilize.
Just when you're ready to find out how the first stage of Libra's plan turns out, we switch over to Andre's story. It takes a bit to adjust - just like you were plucked off of one planet and deposited on another. This story line is a little rougher. Andre is a small child when we meet him. His world is very limited and full of abuse. He's very bright and a lot more normal than he has any right to be. We see how he learns and grows despite his restrictions and lack of human contact and love.
We go back and forth as Libra's plans unfold and Andre ages into a pre-teen. We meet Scovill - an agent of the church. We get to see more than just the law enforcing side of him. He's not entirely likeable but definitely an interesting character. Libra's income from stage one of her plan allows her to strike at the industry that pollutes her planet. She gets this money from selling to the black market. We get to see these, for a better word, mobsters and their frustration as Libra eludes identification during their transactions. Andre meets his first (and for quite a while only) friend. He is also sent away to seminary - which is completely alien and horrifying. A lot of really horrible things happen to Andre there. Some of it is hard to read but really bonds the reader with Andre.
**Spoiler alert until the last paragraph - skip if you want**
While Libra's attack against the plant goes perfectly, the results are exactly what she imagined. She wasn't able to predict some of the negative outcomes. This seems to come mainly from her youth and lack of a broad point of view. She learns as she goes with help from her boss - the lovable Jules.
The storylines start their journeys toward each other when Andre escapes from seminary. It's an engaging trip with him - nerve-racking and hopeful at the same time. A couple strokes of luck get Andre onto a Zgaarid ship. He meets the two Zgaarid crewmen who give him asylum. He learns their language and how to use their technology. On one of their trade stops, they discover that the snake-like inhabitants are dying from a plague and need help to transport the disease-causing organism to another planet with a large biochemical industry. This involves a space-jump that has a higher chance of failure. And, in fact, they do get stuck in the system. But Andre figures out how to rescue the ship and becomes a hero to the Zgaarid. This status comes with some "upgrades" to Andre.
We come back to Libra's story and get so thoroughly involved that Andre's arrival into her world is a nice surprise. He's there to help catch the group of subversives (aka Libra) responsible for the trouble. Of course, they connect (in many ways) and things get interesting. Libra has another plot to sabotage the subway system and again confuses the heck out of the government and church. This time, she gets to see the chaos she causes inside the mayor's office with her new connection to Andre. Her third plot to disable all the cars in the city goes off almost without a hitch. But one of her "undetectable" canisters of battery-killing material is discovered.
To explain what happens next would completely spoil the best part of the book. The action comes fast and furious until the satisfying end. It's a clever wrap up to the story arc and I look forward to the next book in which I hope there are more adventures for Andre and Libra. I liked this book and definitely recommend it!
A science fiction novel with humans settled on different planets controlled by religious zealots may at first seem incongruous, but humans did not invent the advanced technology that enabled their galactic Diaspora. Instead, it was given them by the alien Zgaarid to use allowing the story to posit a future that is an extrapolation of the 17th and 18th century colonization of the United States and thereby to create an imaginative, yet never improbable, setting for the two principal characters - Libra and Andre. Libra, who lives on Precursor, is Nicolas' posthumous daughter and a skilled chemist in her own right. Andre was born on Gemariah where, although he suffered a Dickensian childhood of moralistic abuse at his father's hand, he manages to become literate via the powers of his native curiosity and intelligence.
Structurally, the novel intertwines Libra's and Andre's stories leading to their fated meeting. Libra vows to carry on her father's legacy and free Precursor from its oppression by an elaborate plan of terrorism to bring down the ruling class. Andre resolves to liberate himself from the ungodly pedophiles and tyrants who inhabit the seminary to which his father exiles him as punishment for the sin of learning to read. For both, their wits and their confidence are the keys to their salvation, but it is not a perfectly smooth road either ends up travelling. As their stories unfold, the pair has much to learn about unintended consequences and much to unlearn about their own unexamined and naïve assumptions.
While such a tale may appear thematically to be overly somber, Weinberg works with a gentler touch as he deftly weaves comedic scenes throughout. Some involve imaginative and unexpected minor characters, key to enlivening the plot and providing many delights to readers; but most are in the form of the small and big moments when Libra and Andre come to realize the limits of their own intelligence and the possibility that, as Hamlet reminds Horatio, there is more than is dreamt of in their philosophies. The moment of change, the teaching moment, is the major surprise that Weinberg's novel holds for its readers. No one should miss the opportunity to partake in such an enjoyable and enlightening journey - something only the most magical storytellers conjure in their writings.