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Superluminal by Vonda N. McIntyre

Superluminal (1983)

by Vonda N. McIntyre

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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255469,512 (3.45)15
To navigate in multi-dimensional hyperspace, starship pilots must undergo a drastic operation in which their hearts are replaced by mechanical pumps under conscious control; subsequently they hold aloof from other crew members and ordinary mortals. Laenea, convalescing after her operation and engaged in a torrid affair with lowly crewman Radu, soon discovers why: her machine-driven metabolism and Radu's organic one are incompatible.… (more)



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Stayed up until 2 am re-reading Superluminal. Something reminded me of this story, and I wanted to reacquaint myself with it. I particularly love the scene where Orca tells off Dr Kristen van de Graaf, the administrator who is supervising the debriefing of the pilots and crew from the unprecedented search and rescue success of a lost space ship and subjecting them to a battery of medical tests and generally keeping them locked away from everyone and everything:

At the hatch of the shuttle, Orca stopped short.
"Wait a minute," she said, "Where are you planning to take us?"
"Back to earth," Van de Graaf said.
"Very funny," Orca snapped. "Landing where?"
"White Sands."
"I can't land at White Sands."
"Why not?"
"Because I have no intention of being and arrested and interned as a prisoner of war. Surely you know that my family has never made peace with the United States government."
"After a moment of incomprehension, van de Graaf said, "Oh. I'd forgotten all about that. Surely in an emergency--"
"No! Even if they promised me free passage I wouldn't believe them. Besides, I'd be in trouble with my own people if I accepted it."
"We all have more important things to think about than ancient history."
"Do you think this is some kind of joke?" Orca said angrily. "It may be ancient history to you, but my family has an even longer memory than the U.S. Navy--and the U.S. Navy blows us out of the water whenever they have a chance. They still consider us traitors, if not spies."
"I'll get you a world council safe-conduct on the way down--"
"Let me explain it to you in terms you may understand, doctor," Orca said. "Not landing in the United States is in my contract."

I like the characters and the concepts in this story. Maybe the news story about researchers recording an apparent conversation between dolphins brought this novel to mind. Or returning to visit the PNW earlier this year (I so miss that area!).

Orca is a genetically engineered diver--humans adapted to become marine mammals who have formed clans with adoptive family ties to different whale species with whom they have created a shared society. The divers can still operate on land, and Orca has taken a job as a spaceship crew member, though some of the divers never interact with the landers, preferring to stay within their own territory, learning from the wisdom of the great whales, such as Orca's younger brother. I like this vision of a future where a subset of humanity has found a way to not only coexist with other dominant species, but to thrive with them in a cooperative society of mutual learning.

But actually, all of that is just backstory and subplot. The novel opens with Laenea Trevelyan waking up from the surgery to remove her heart. The story is really an exploration of love and loss, identity and transformation and even transcendence, in many flavors: star-crossed lovers whose passionate affair is intense but all too brief, family members who love but don't quite understand each other either, friends with mysterious pasts, the transition from crew to pilot, from sea to land to space, from the 3 dimensions that everyone experiences to higher dimensions that so few people can perceive or experience, the sacrifices and difficult choices people must make when they don't quite fit in anymore, and finding connections between the familiar and the alien.

The story is full of strong female characters--in fact, I think there might be more female characters than male, or perhaps they're at parity. But the men have strong roles too. And there is a great diversity of representation in terms of race and ethnicity--from a new world colonized by Australian aboriginals (and a crew member returning home to them), to crew and pilots with French Canadian, Japanese, Latino, eastern European, Russian, and various Anglo names. There's plenty of action, interesting characters, good dialogue, adventure and wonder. What more can you ask for in science fiction? ( )
  justchris | Oct 15, 2016 |
There is something special about the way McIntyre writes. She is expert in advancing plot through character dialog while keeping informational exposition to a minimum. When she does delve into exposition, it is done effectively with direct prose that paints vivid scenery while sticking to the point. Nary a word is wasted as everything means something within the overall scope of this story. This is definitely a book to file on the 'To Re-read' shelf. ( )
  ScoLgo | May 5, 2015 |
Before I even knew anything about the author - this story became my favourite (Sci-Fi/Fan) short fiction. Vonda's writing style is indeed very 'fluid' with each pargraph just lapping against the shore like a gentle ripple of imagination. Who needs a 'still pond' as the Zen Masters say - nothing would be written! Maybe I am biased though as I am a Diver and read this while relaxing at Scotts Heads (northern New South Wales). ( )
  Jasignature | Nov 12, 2009 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Vonda N. McIntyreprimary authorall editionscalculated
Maguire, Robert A.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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