The generational fleet was supposed to land on a new world in eighty years. Eleven planets and four hundred years later, they finally found a home.
The only problem is something already lives there, and it’s big.
Agetha and her husband Daved have lived in zero-G in the fleet their whole short lives. Now they are thrown into turmoil as the fleet lands, surrounded by a vibrant biomass consisting of a single fungal alien organism spanning the entire planet. Together, they must build a new home, brave a dangerous organism, and decide when and if they might raise a family in this new inhospitable landscape.
Jane Brighton holds tenuous command over the entire colony and the other administrators who once commanded the ships of the fleet. She and the other gene-modded leaders who have stayed in suspended animation for the four hundred year journey of the fleet find crew who are much different than the ones they started out with on Old Earth. Jane must direct the fragile colony, ever in danger of being overrun by the fast-growing biomass. The generational crew of the ships have their own agendas, but Jane and the other leaders will live many times longer than the colonists. They must balance the growth and survival of the colony with the fleeting lives of those who would build it.
But there is something none of the colonists know. The massive organism that spans the planet is not simply a fungal mass, nor even simply a chimerical combination of species that once roamed free on the planet. The biomass has desires and goals, and one of those is to know these strange beings carving out a new home in its midst.
Based on the title, I had to read this book (this microbiologist loves her fungus). As I dove into chapter one, I learned that not only is the fungus aware, it has view point scenes too! So bonus points to the author for that one. I was hooked by that alone. As the book progressed there were some very intriguing theories regarding the fungus’ evolution and reproduction involving both viruses and prions. It’s a clever idea—and as someone who did their senior capstone work on prions, I loved the fact it was included in this book.
But there are other very interesting concepts in the story, as well.
The ships are maintained by individuals they call “generationals,” those whose ancestors were tasked with the general upkeep and the ongoing search for a new world. Generationals are allowed to breed within fixed parameters; they must maintain the population in order to continue with routine repairs of the ships, but after centuries, there are signs of genetic drift. More bonus points for keeping to the science on that front.
Another concept featured was that of the Vagals’ implants. The Vagals are super soldiers, and their implants allow them to react faster than the average human, as well as boosting their strength, immune responses, and more. The concept of implants of that nature in science fiction isn’t new, but it worked well within the context of the story. I also liked the portions from Anderson’s perspective; at first, he isn’t comfortable with the implant, but over time, he comes to trust its reactions over his own. He even starts to think of it as its own entity and gives it a name.
The human colonists’ struggle to survive on a relatively inhospitable planet was fascinating, and the methods the fungus used to observe, interact with, and “subsume” the newcomers was equally intriguing. The one thing I would have liked to learn more of was why the humans left Earth to begin with. It’s alluded to that they’d ruined their home world, but it was only a small subset of the population who left. I found myself asking what prompted them to leave more than once, but that question was never answered.
There are a number of viewpoints in the story, some more engaging than others. I never really connected to some of the characters (though I liked Anderson, and Jane Brighton made for a decent villain). But the characters weren’t what drew me to this story. The science and theoretical possibilities are where this book really shines.
That being said, there is quite a bit of technical language at times. I believe the author did a good job of explaining some aspects of the science through conversations between characters, though as a scientist myself, I’m used to the terminology… It may not be as clear for other readers as it was for me (I’m not sure I’m a good judge of this.) The book is listed as “hard sci-fi,” so the science should be expected. And as I said previously, it’s the scientific concepts and how they were applied to the story that piqued my curiosity and held my attention.
This was a very interesting read, and from my perspective as a microbiologist, well-researched. I’m interested to see where book 2 will take the story.
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