Book Review


(1979 (2006 edition)) George Zebrowski, Pyr, US$15.00, pbk, 388pp, ISBN 1-59102-341-6


This is a 2006 edition of Zebrowski's 1979 novel Macrolife: A Mobile Utopia with interior illustrations by Rick Sternbach, and sporting a lovely John Picacio cover. It also has a new introduction by Ian Watson and a new afterword by the author. This 27-odd year old novel has long since been hailed as a "classic" and a "masterpiece" and who am I to disagree? Luckily I feel no such inclination: it is an SF classic and a book which contains all the sense of wonder that truly good SF could wish for and, as Arthur C Clarke says, "manages an extraordinary balance between the personal and cosmic elements". Not unlike Clarke's 2001, Macrolife has a plotline that covers a huge tract of time and, accordingly, is split into three sections dealing with epochal moments in the future of humankind.

It starts in 2021 with the Bulero family and a disaster that befalls humanity, forcing the remnants of the species into space habitats. One of these is mobile, a hollowed out asteroid capable of containing many thousands and, as it travels the stars (having handily discovered a form of ftl travel), it reproduces using the resources of other star systems. The next section is set a thousand years later when, during one of these reproductive stopovers, a Bulero descendant experiences planet-bound life and comes to understand the tensions between mobile humanity and dwellers in gravity wells. This section culminates in a return to Earth space and a first contact situation. The final section is set close to the end of the universe when human and alien macrolife has long since joined into a united consciousness, but must now face the Big Crunch. A version of Bulero is resurrected from the group mind to face the coming challenge.

Bearing in mind that this is an old novel and, therefore, one which was heavily influenced by the science of its day, it has to be said that it has held up remarkably well over time and does not seem implausible even now, even given current cosmology (the only thing that might have been changed - and I'm glad that it wasn't - would have been some idea that the Big Crunch wasn't natural, but induced). I might boldly add that, for me at least, science fiction is at its best when the science hasn't become magical (notwithstanding Clarke's Law) and that changes to humanity are not arbitrary, for the sake of effect or image. As such Macrolife ticks all the right boxes, and it is probably its very unfussiness that has contributed to its longevity. Of course, it could just be that I'm the right age to have enjoyed its wonder first time around, and to now be remembering it (upon re-reading) nostalgically...? But I don't think so: good is good and quality tells, and I'm damn sure there's many a current writer of SF who would give their right arms to write a book that will survive as long as this one. Needless to say, recommended to all.

Tony Chester

For another take on this title see Jonathan's review.

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