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The Bohr Maker by Linda Nagata
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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Plenty to like here, but also something that, for me, and perhaps only me fell slightly short of making it a really good read. The idea isn't bad: The Commonwealth--comprised, one assumes, of the heavies of our times, the G-7 and a few hangers-on, has given up a great amount of their power to the "Chief of Police" whose mission is to keep the line drawn between legal and illegal programming of nanobots that can alter life forms at the molecular level. It's a bit simplified and the Chief herself is a bit of a cut-out an amusing deluded sort of good-bad gal (who is really the villain). Was it the names that didn't ring true? "Maker" for the immensely complex programs? Or "atrium" for the in-brain receiving area for "ghosts" - that is the extremely lifelike projections people can send around of themselves. The list goes on. The biggest problem is that while I do think Nagata has her ideas straight in her head, it was not always clear to me who was in their real body, and if they were, how they suddenly were. It is quite rare to actually die in this world (unless you are poor and live in one of the countries that is only tangentially connected to the Commonwealth) because you can have back-ups and copies and you can grow a clone and use a ghost and so on. . . . I have a similar issue sometimes with fantasy when it is just too easy for the person to practice magic, no fatigue, no consequences. It's a shame because some of it really does grab you and IS interesting and DOES work. The deeper question of how far can you go before you alter "life" irretrievably, echoes of GMO and DNA fiddling fears we have now, is a good one. In this case, the issue is particularly complicated by the fact that the poorer people of the Earth have no resources at all--kept from them by the Commonwealth . . . so having this program could change things for the better, even if it would NOT be life as before. It's a great question to explore. I have another Nagata novel, that may even have a character from this one in it, so I will try it. ***1/2 ( )
  sibyx | Jan 15, 2017 |
Exciting read ( )
  gregandlarry | Nov 29, 2014 |
This was very original and an enjoyable read. ( )
  marysneedle | Mar 28, 2013 |
Bohr Maker was Linda Nagata's debut novel and won the Locus Award for Best First Novel in 1996. It is about nanotechnology and about privilege and poverty.

Phousita is a slum girl in a future country/region that doesn't exist at present but which I read as being in southern Asia (I don't think anything specific was mentioned though, and it's possible I missed a reference). Her country isn't part of the Commonwealth, meaning that nanotechnology is less present and when present unregulated. The Commonwealth enjoys sticking its nose into other countries affairs and takes it upon itself to police everyone's nanotechnology. But it doesn't care about minor offences, only major ones which could threaten its way of life. So when Phousita is poisoned with nanotech that stunts her growth, or when her friend has his face disfigured no one cares. But as soon as an Important Person inadvertently infects Phousita with the potentially dangerous Bohr Maker (the general term for a nanotech system), the Commonwealth is all over it and Phousita is in different trouble to anything she could have imagined.

There was a lot to like about The Bohr Maker. I very much enjoyed the worldbuilding; one of my favourite things was the nanotech introduced into the river running through the slum (which was downriver of the rest of the city) which changed the water from foetid to clear with edible "fluff" floating on top of it that some of the poorest residents of the city collect to eat. Obviously, it sucks to have to eat river fluff, but how neat is the technology? It would be an awesome invention to carry through to the real world.

I liked the juxtaposition of the high technology belonging to rich people — including space stations, a sort of brain-to-brain communication system, and of course the nanotech — and the very low-tech world in the poorest regions on Earth. Phousita and her cohorts don't know what nanotechnology is and interpret as magic and curses. When Phousita is infected by and gains control of the very advanced Bohr Maker, she thinks she's possessed by a sorcerer and is becoming a witch. When she heals people with the technology, they see it as a spell. All of which makes perfect sense given the context.

What I didn't like about this book, was many of the characters. I liked Phousita, who was genuinely a nice person, and I didn't mind her friend Arif, who wasn't a nice person but understandably so, given his circumstances (actually, I thought he was OK until Phousita started getting more power and threatening his power in their little family). Nikko, a genetically engineered human designed to survive vacuum (a character like him features in Nagata's short story In The Tide, briefly reviewed here), was the other main protagonist and I liked him too. He finds himself in the rather intolerable position of having a fast-approaching expiration date on his genome. When his father created him, the Commonwealth forced him to put in the expiration date 30 years in the future, which he agreed to under the assumption that by then the law would have caught up and he could remove the fail-safe. It didn't. Nikko sets out to try to steal the Bohr Maker (before it's passed onto Phousita) to try to save himself. In the course of events he gets caught up with Phousita (and gets his brother caught up in the trouble as well).

The central character I really hated was Kirsten, the Chief of the Commonwealth police force. She was a horrible person and an unnecessarily large part of the narrative was told from her point of view. I say unnecessarily because while I acknowledge that she instigated a lot of plot-relevant things (she was the one trying to track down the Bohr Maker and get both Nikko and Phousita executed), there were also chunks of worldbuilding exposition filtered through her point of view. And really, it was her point of view that repulsed me. She didn't see Nikko as a person, but as an animal (despite, prior to the opening, conducting an affair with him) and had zero compassion for anyone. She righteously upholds the spirit of the law (not the letter) by any means necessary, with her convictions reinforced by a zealous religious belief that the Bohr Maker and any other unsanctioned nanotech threatened the sanctity of natural life on Earth (unless it was minor nanotech making lives harder in the slums). I simply could not stand the religious zealotry. I'm not sure if she was supposed to be a partially sympathetic character, but she wasn't and I felt I was inside her head too often. She wasn't the sort of antagonist I love to hate either. At one point I had to put the book down for the evening because I couldn't bring myself to finish the current chapter and get back to her sections. However, depending on your particular set of prejudices, your mileage may vary.

The only other thing that bothered me a little bit were a few slow points throughout the book. It wasn't a particularly long book but there were a few bits when I wished the plot would hurry up because I wanted to know what happened next. However, they weren't enough to ruin my enjoyment except for the slow bits with Kirsten.

In all, there is a lot to like about The Bohr Maker. Particularly notable is that almost ten years later, this book didn't feel at all dated. I will definitely be picking up the next book in the series (or indeed any other science fiction of Nagata's that crosses my path). I've now read her debut novel as well as her most recent novel (which I loved, and which was rather more fast-paced), and I see no reason not to fill in the blanks. I strongly recommend The Bohr Maker to fans of reasonably hard science fiction (although the technical details aren't discussed in detail) as well as fans of sociological science fiction.

4 / 5 stars

You can read more of my reviews on my blog. ( )
  Tsana | Dec 30, 2012 |
It’s not like I missed the debut of novelist Linda Nagata. I bought the original paperback of this edition when it came out, but it sat on my shelf unread until I read her recent young adult novel Sky Object 3270a set much further in the universe of this novel.

I was not disappointed by this novel nor did I find it dated.

My inner bureaucrat finds a fascination with stories built around the idea of controlling – but not totally suppressing – a powerful and disruptive technology. Here it’s nanotechnology, dubbed “makers” in this novel.

A Commonwealth, to which most of the humans of Earth and orbital habitats in the solar system belong, mandates that nanotechnology only be used in limited ways. Specifically, radical alterations to the human genome, beyond curing degenerative disorders – which include aging – and cosmetic changes to skin and hair color, are not allowed. Embodying a major exception to this is one of the novel’s central characters: Nikko Jiang-Tibayan. With his ceramic skin and ability to exist in the vacuum of space, Nikko is actually a science project authorized by the Commonwealth Police, a science project with a legally mandated end coming soon. Nikko begs his old lover, Kirstin Adair, who just happens to be the Chief of Commonwealth Police, for an extension of his life. Adair is one of the best things about the novel. She’s an unpleasant and fanatical adherent to the modern superstition of nature worship, a devoted protector of the Mother Goddess Gaia. Still, she’s not entirely unsympathetic. The makers do promise tremendous upheaval. That was realized by another old lover of hers, Leander Bohr, when he developed – but refused to release to other people – the most sophisticated and illegal maker of all, the titular Bohr Maker.

To extend his life, Nikko tries to get the sequestered Bohr Maker and sets in motion a series of events that will threaten his younger brother; possibly estrange him even more from his father Fox who designed him and the sophisticated orbital habitat they live in, a man whose experiments in maker development push the very limits of legality; entangle two ex-prostitutes, Phousita – a voluptuous and perfectly proportioned four-foot-tall woman – and Arif – possessor of a glow-in-the-dark clown face of long nose and bulging cheeks, in a cascade series of events that threaten the political and social order of the Commonwealth.

Phousita and Arif exist in a zone of Earth where the Commonwealth does not have complete control. The local authorities are given a certain amount of leeway, including allowance to dabble in the sort of illegal makers that created the alterations that led to Phousita and Alif. The fast moving plot, which starts out with Phousita being the accidental repository of the Bohr Maker, involves some interesting technological ideas one of which I think is rather novel.

Nikko and Adair and some other characters move about in electronic data streams as “ghosts” – recordings of personality and memory. They move in and out of bodies manufactured for them with only one legally allowed to be active at any one time. That was not even a novel idea in 1995’s science fiction. What is more novel is that these ghosts run as programs in “atriums”, seemingly parts of an individual’s brain altered by makers. The possibility of multiple ghosts being active at once and inhabiting the bodies of others for purposes of sex, hiding, and espionage is exploited.

There are plenty of science fiction stories that have used the idea of nanotechnology. Indeed, it’s part of the standard genre tool kit these days. While not as rigorous in analyzing the limits and possibilities of nanotech and how it might be used and controlled as Wil McCarthy’s Bloom, it is closer in feel to that than other stories where nanotech is a magical fairy dust.

In short, this novel has a fast-paced story with Phousita and Nikko and Kirstin as interesting characters, a plausible notion of how and why nanotechnology would be controlled, and a conflict with the nature of the human ecosystem at stake. A very strong novel and a fine introduction to the Nanotech Succession. ( )
  RandyStafford | Aug 18, 2012 |
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Just past dawn a dead man came floating down the river.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553569252, Paperback)

It is the most powerful technology known to humanity, microscopically small, allowing its user to control and change other's moods and emotions, and even to reprogram his or her own genetic structure. Its potential as the ultimate weapon or an instrument of peace has led to its ban by the Commonwealth.

Someone has stolen this outlaw technology, the Bohr Maker, from the secret files of the Commonwealth Police, at the command of a man with a genetic time bomb coded into his DNA. Nikko Jiang-Tibayan has only weeks to live, and he will do anything to stay only weeks to live, and he will do anything to stay alive, even if it means the end of life as we know it.

But then the Bohr Maker falls into the hands of a beautiful young woman in the poverty-stricken slums of Sunda. Its technology will make her both fugitive and messiah. The object of frantic searches by a walking dead man and a high-tech police force, the Maker holds the key to the total destruction of humanity -- or its miraculous rebirth....

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:45 -0400)

Nanotechnology saturates the world. It makes possible glittering orbital cities. But strict laws regulate its use, and death follows for those caught in violation. The threat of death means little though, to a man already condemned to die. Nikkopost human, genetically engineered to survive in space, and desperate to escape his fatesteals a forbidden nanomachine. But the theft goes awry and the nanomachine escapes into the wildigniting a desperate race to contain it before the definition of "human" changes for all time.… (more)

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