Marrow, by Robert Reed (1997)
Check out my review policy for a few disclaimers before proceeding.
Content warnings: swearing, glossed-over sex, including interspecies sex (what?), lots of people getting decapitated (most of them get better) and miscellaneous violence in cruel detail.
One of my favorite wonderings is wondering how long it would take for humans starting with nothing but knowledge to build themselves into a space-capable civilization. This book almost delivers.
The story revolves around a planet, unsurprisingly named Marrow. Unlike most planets, this one is held by force fields inside a massive, Jupiter-sized derelict alien spaceship called the Great Ship. At the start of the book the Great Ship has long since been settled by humans, who use it as some combination of habitat and interstellar taxi service for other species. Humans, at this point, are now immortal cyborgs, as the book’s plot spans millennia.
A short aside: If transhumanism ever pans out, as it often does in SF novels, and once all the kinks are worked out, I doubt humanity and its culture would remain mostly the same except that everyone lives forever. Brain uploads, personality rewriting, group minds, post-singularity AIs, or any of the common tropes would lead to a vastly different world. In particular, after reading the Golden Age trilogy by John C. Wright, I inevitably compare transhuman visions with it and find most wanting.
In any case, the book starts with some of the best and brightest captains of the ship having a secret meeting, wherein it is revealed that deep inside the Great Ship lays an unexplored, unknown planet. On their expedition, the bridge back home is destroyed in an event known as the Event, leaving the captains stranded on Marrow. After waiting for rescue for several years, they realize they’re on their own.
A good portion of the book is spent on Marrow, where the godlike transhumans are reduced to a nomadic tribal society. To achieve the necessary industrial base to return, they produce children, but many rebels split off to form their own tribe. I wished this portion was longer, but most of it is glossed over.
After they return comes a some violent episodes and several plot twists. I had already been spoiled by a vague memory of the original novella that of which this book was based, but I will not spoil you, and simply leave you to read the book.
The ending I found anticlimactic and hard to follow, though having read the book in a single sitting, I may have been too tired to read it right.
As for its moral content, I must say I was disappointed, particularly with the brief and squick-inducing mention of human-alien sex. Of more concern is the level of violence, which is overly depicted. As for religion, as with many secular SF stories it is depicted as for fools. The two religions depicted on Marrow, the Waywards and the Loyalists, are both false. The one afterlife scene is later shown to be a virtual reality. Then again, at least it didn’t rant against real religions, which is a plus I guess?
My verdict: Good enough to read, not enough for me to re-read. I plan to check out the sequel from my local library. I give it one bittern of mostly neutral approval.
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