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Super-Earth Mother by Guy Immega

Reviewed by Robert Runté

Super-Earth Mother is the story of colonization of an exoplanet around Lalande 21185. Instead of sending a crew and passengers on the 20,000-year trip to another star system, with the impossible demand on resources that would imply, the AI-guided ship contains only a gene bank and a set of artificial wombs to produce and raise suitably modified humans in situ. It is a fairly clever take on practical stellar colonization, believably manageable with near-future levels of rocket science, genetics, and only a little wishful thinking on AI.

Super-Earth Mother, then, is traditional-style hard-science fiction.

First, Immega has clearly done his best to keep the story within the bounds of current science. This contrasts with a lot of notional science fiction, which is set so far in a future that the authors can just decree warp drives and teleportation to costume their fantasy novels in techno cosplay. I have no problem with science fantasy novels, but it is sometimes refreshing to watch an author work within the strictures of the real universe. Lalande 21185 is a real star system with a real super-earth in the Goldilocks zone that actually could be a target of colonization if humanity were going to try that. Another realistic touch is that Immega has a lot of the hardware fail, as one would expect over the proposed timeframe. He has even kept within realpolitik: realizing no government would ever invest in anything that won’t come to fruition for over 20,000 years, Immega assigns the driving force to a Musk-style billionaire.

Second, there is a certain majestic sweep to the vision here. Because Immega is working from our current knowledge base, the sheer scale of the undertaking is breathtaking, reminiscent of the boundless optimism of the emergent genre in the 1920s-50s. There’s an underlying belief in science and humanity that says: we could actually pull this off. I have not encountered that sort of ‘gosh-wow’ undertone since my youth.

On the other hand, this belief in technology is immediately balanced by a typically Canadian skepticism of science as panacea, the recognition that we are all subject to forces beyond our control, and that happy endings are never guaranteed. Also: people are basically messed up and starting over is no guarantee of a creating a utopia. So…the overly optimistic pulp fiction of the 1930s meets the cynical Canadian speculative fiction of the 1960s? It makes for an interesting mix and a bit of an intellectual roller coaster.

Third, there is a distinctly flat narrative tone, again reminiscent of some early pulp SF. Partly, this reflects that much of the story is told from the perspective of the essentially emotionless AI. Something of a monotone is to be expected of the AI, who has to rely on her ‘emotional simulation’ subroutines for colour commentary. This stunted emotionality carries over to the sections narrated by the colonists, given they were either raised by robot nannies rather than by humans, or affected by the intergenerational trauma of having parents raised by AI.

However, much of this flat tone is purposeful, there is no question that Immega is writing idea-driven, rather than character-driven, hard-science fiction. There are lots of individual stories within the wider scope of the narrative, but the camera is zoomed out, so the focus is always on how these events affect the story of humankind rather than the individual. This contrasts subtly with the hard science fiction of, say, Robert Sawyer’s The Downloaded, where the readers' emotional connection with key individuals eventually allows their individual story arcs to reveal the big ideas behind the scenes. In Super-Earth Mother, the god’s-eye view of the AI provides the meta narrative that individual lives are but fleeting moments within the real story, the larger frame; that the only thing that really matters is the survival of the species. We do see and identify with this or that character when Immega zooms in on one or other character’s story, but there is always this semi-detached perspective that their story is not the story.

For example, there are a couple of sex scenes that pop up that are a bit . . . sudden, clinical, detached from even that individual’s larger narrative, as if the reader just happened to tune into that one scene while flipping channels. Which works really well to remind the reader that nothing in these characters’ lives actually matters within the larger frame of our god’s-eye view of things. All their stories are just excerpts, channel surfing, today’s meme, and whether we glimpse this character’s drama instead of one of the dozens of others who are barely mentioned in passing, their lives scarcely register in the larger scheme of things.

Nevertheless, there is an assortment of distinct and engaging characters, a creatively detailed alien ecology, and plenty of adventure to keep one turning pages.

That’s all I can say without providing a bunch of spoilers. I strongly recommend not reading the back cover blurb, which gives away too many of the potential twists—basically the first 70 pages. I do not understand why authors or publishers cannot restrain themselves from spoilers in their back copy, but in this case, the error is fully compensated by an outstanding David Willicome front cover.

Super-Earth Mother is published by Edge-Lite Books


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