First edition cover
|Genre||Science fiction novel|
|Publisher||Penguin Books (USA)|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
- For the American industrialist and inventor, see William Edenborn.
In the aftermath of a global plague, a group of gengineered posthumans are trying to rebuild society by cloning children.The world is divided into two ideological factions, one believing that humanity's weakness should be improved upon via genetic manipulation, and one devoted to bringing back the frozen remains of humanity 1.0. Both groups contribute to the overall systems of the world, Vashti working to cure Black Ep, and Isaac working to sanitize the world for his children. Pandora runs IVR, the virtual reality system, and Halloween maintains his policy of American isolationism. The children are protected from the plague by a specially-engineered retrovirus called BEAR. One group led by Champagne and Vashti, in Munich, Germany, is composed entirely of posthuman women. The other, led by Isaac, in Luxor, Egypt, is human. The two camps have an exchange program despite the death of Hessa, Isaac's daughter, in the previous exchange.
Haji, of the Luxor camp, is going to Munich this year with two of his siblings, Ngozi and Dalila. Raised to be devout Sufi Muslims, Haji is wary but delighted by the mores and technology in Munich. The Munich contingent is run more like a bootcamp than a school for the girls. Vashti monitors all of their dealings and domains in IVR, and has it strictly censored. Vashti also controls the girls through virtual dollars given as pocket money, used to buy things in IVR.
Penny, the main character of the Munich base, is obsessed with power, and recognition. When she hears that Pandora has become overworked, and may need an assistant, she puts all of her energy into getting the position. Penny is alienated from all of her peers, especially Brigit and Sloane. She believes that she has supernatural powers and somehow put a "hex" on her sister, causing her to break her leg. She believes herself to be the smartest of the girls, the best athlete, and a great writer of operatic symphonies. Her only desire is to be recognized, to be "queen of the inside" by controlling IVR, and thereby controlling her sisters.She is the kind of person who is only nice when she thinks someone is watching.She offers to pay Brigit and Sloane 5,000 dollars each (in IVR money) if they say good things about her to Pandora. When her sisters demand more money, she resorts to blackmailing them. When she is informed that Olivia, her younger sister, got the job instead, she threatens Olivia, and resolves to "make them pay".
Small items, with no history or sender, keep ending up in IVR. Haji finds a key, and Tomi recognizes it as the key to the cryogenics lab, where the Geanectis scientist Halfway Jim has stored a composite of his personality in a computer. Haji realizes the truth, that he is a clone of Halfway Jim. The Jim composite tells his that he must sacrifice himself, and "download" the personality, so that Halfway Jim, the genius, can help the world. Haji is in the middle of a crisis of faith. His entire life, his religion, stresses the ultimate path to God as self-annihilation, fana, the black light that annihilates everything but God. Here he is faced with the decision to destroy himself for the betterment of humanity. He must also consider what his father's intentions were in cloning him, and raising him to believe in what he does. He wonders if he was intended to be a conduit for Halfway Jim, his father's idol; his father's God. Just as Haji gets some solitude to contemplate this crisis, and Penny makes out her hit list, IVR goes down. Everything is exposed, Vasthi's logs and evaluations of the girls that reveal a range of mood-suppressing drugs—including sex-drive suppressants—and subliminal codes that the Munich camp use to keep their children in line, as well as the reading of the girls supposedly secret diaries. The girls are betrayed, and the Munich camp is in disarray. This is the work of a trickster called Deuce, who sees himself as the successor to "Hermes, Loki, Prometheus, Raven and Coyote".
Halloween made a clone of himself to watch his own life. He inserted this clone into IVR to follow his own life. However, the clone did not follow all of Halloween's choices, and Hal realized that the clone was an individual human being, and not really Hal. He named the clone Deuce and brought him out of IVR to raise him as his son. When Deuce makes his strike on the Munich computer network, Pandora goes to Michigan to confront Halloween (she thinks he is responsible), which makes Halloween initially mad. Pandora agrees to take Deuce back to Munich to face a punishment. But Penny, recently unbalanced by the news of the mood-suppressants, is secretly working with Deuce, and the two elope.
Meanwhile, Pandora is tracking monkeys in the Amazon. The plague wiped out the world's primates, so the continued survival of the monkeys is important if a vaccine is to be found. An answer is found—a special sap the monkeys eat—but Mu'tazz, a human boy on the expedition, suddenly falls ill and the groups goes back to Munich for medical care. The answer is chilling—Mu'tazz overdosed on his retrovirus tablets, and the retrovirus began to mutate.
Halloween goes to Munich to track down his son. After brief recriminations, Isaac—leader of the Luxor camp—tells them that the three children on the exchange course (and presumably the other human children) are also suffering and will soon die.
Deuce and Penelope go to Britain, and begin a 'last-couple-on-Earth' fantasy. But Penny insists that on fulfilling the fantasy, and the pair go to an air force base and acquire weaponry. After they accidentally shoot down Pandora over the Mediterranean, they travel to Munich with a rocket launcher. Deuce follows everything Penny tells him to do because she is dying—it's shown by huge red splotches on her. However, she is really using strawberry jam to cause herself to have an allergic reaction so that she can fool Deuce. When Penny tells Deuce to fire the rocket launcher at the headquarters where everyone else is, Deuce refuses. Penny takes the rocket launcher herself and prepares to fire it. Halloween shoots her. Deuce commits suicide, with his idea of his father shattered.
In the aftermath, the various leaders realise that all their problems came from deceit and trickery. They all move to Munich, where they begin to build, hopefully, a better world.
F&SF reviewer Robert. K. J. Killheffer described the novel as a "competent but not particularly original [take] on familiar sf scenarios," distinguished from the routine by Sagan's "sympathetic treatment of religious faith."
- "Books", F&SF, April 2005, pp.34-35