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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Monday, January 26, 2004

Murasaki: a novel in six parts by Poul Anderson, Greg Bear, Gregory Benford, David Brin, Nancy Kress and Frederik Pohl. Edited by Robert Silverberg. New York: Bantam Books, 1992. ISBN: 0553082299

This book is an example of a classic science fiction exercise: construct a world, work out all of the details of the solar system which lead inevitably to the planet (or in this case, planets) which are habitable, and then construct the geology, biology, zoology—the entire biosphere, hemisphere—the works. Then recruit a group of top-notch science fiction authors and ask them to write stories using your constructed setting.

The two Po#l's, Poul Anderson and Frederik Pohl, are responsible for the world-building, and their efforts are contained in the book's two Appendices. Each of them also contributes a story, and the rest of the stories were written, round robin style, as the package of materials made the rounds from writer to writer. Robert Silverberg provides an erudite introduction, in which he describes other similar efforts, and succinctly summarizes the history of such endeavors, in addition to giving us the history of this particular example

The stories themselves are normally what make or break the success of any such project, however, and that is at least partly true here. But there are several stories that just get us introduced to these unique worlds, and they aren't always the most compelling stories we could imagine, early in the volume.

In this case, perhaps even more important than the stories is one unique and amazing fact about this exercise in world-building, the fact that there are not one, but TWO habitable planets in this system, and not one, but BOTH of them have managed to produce intelligent races, perhaps even more than one on each planet. Did life begin on one, and somehow spread to the other? Have there been interactions between the life on these two separate worlds? The attempt to come to grips with questions like these lead to an inevitable climax of truly stunning proportions.

If there is any flaw, it is in the unevenness of the various stories, the lack of a single unifying voice. Each of the stories seems to go its own separate way, and has its own voice, which makes for a book in which I will always remember the incredible ending, but willingly forget many of the details that got us there.

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