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Underrated SF Classic: Linda Nagata's "T

Posted : 10 years, 9 months ago on 24 December 2006 06:49 (A review of Tech Heaven)

There are books that get you all goose-bumpy while you read them, and there are books you feel obligated to think about very hard because you know they're classics. Then there are the books that don't do either, but surprise you by turning into stories that you never forget. At odd moments, a scene from the book will jump into your head. Or you'll find yourself pondering an idea raised by the author over and over again. Such is the case with Linda Nagata's 1995 near-future nanopunk novel Tech Heaven. I bought it in the used-book basement of Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, despite the silly title and cheesy cover, probably because I was desperate for new science fiction and nanotech is cool. It turned out to be one of the most haunting SF books I've read.

Tech Heaven is a futuristic thriller about Katie, a woman whose husband Tom is about to die of injuries sustained in a helicopter crash. Instead of dying, he gets his body cryogenically preserved so that he can be reawakened when med-tech is advanced enough to heal him. The problem is that it winds up taking far more than the estimated few years for this to happen.

In fact, Katie grows old and nearly dies waiting for nanotech to be invented that can fix Tom (and her own aged body). In the process, she gets involved in political struggles over cryogenics and nanotech, and there's plenty of action as she flees hostile political factions with the help of a robot into whose mind she can project her consciousness. What stuck with me most, though, were the finely-drawn characters: Katie's bitterly desperate personal entanglements with Tom's former best friend (and maybe lover), as well as her strange relationship with the young man she takes as a lover while she waits for Tom's cure, are full of the sort of subtle motivations you rarely see outside literary writing. Especially impressive are Nagata's visceral descriptions of what Katie feels like as her body grows old and feeble while her husband remains young and frozen in time.

I read Tech Heaven quickly, surprised by how good the writing and ideas were, and never forgot it. I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to realize that's because it's a brilliant novel. What I do know is that I'll be reading the rest of Linda Nagata's books in 2007. Tech Heaven is the first in a series of four nanopunk novels, and she's published several other books too (including the Nebula-award winning novella "Goddesses").

by John Brownlee, with Lore Sjöberg, Lisa Katayama, and Annalee Newitz


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