Kevin J. Anderson,
Fantastic Voyage: Microcosm
(Onyx, 2001)

What if humans could be shrunk so small they would become the much-ballyhooed nanobots of nanotechnology? What if these "nano-humans" then became bionauts to examine an alien body recovered from a Russian vs. guerilla-fighter MiG mishap? This is the main hook Kevin J. Anderson uses for this novel. It's an intriguing idea and I've always been drawn to books that used such what-if questions as the basis for a plot.

There are some things the author did quite well in this novel. For one, his grasp of the technology certainly seemed spot on -- although I admit I'm not a professional scientist. My knowledge of nanotechnology is limited mainly to my monthly subscriptions to two popular scientific magazines. However, his descriptions of nanotechnology and the scenario seem plausible in light of what I've read. It definitely looks like he did his homework to make the technology descriptions believable.

Second, he is very good at keeping up the pace. The first two chapters are a bit slow as he sets up the scenes, introduces the characters and gives some of their background and motivations. From there onward the pace picks up and never lets down. This was enjoyable since I've read way too many novels where it seemed like the author took half the book to get any action going.

Third, the plot itself, while somewhat predictable at a few points, overall was handled in a fresh way so that I enjoyed the story. In my opinion the plot was the strongest point of the book. The only thing about the book that suffered was the characterization. While there were no glaring or annoying actions or dialogue by the characters, neither was their anything they said or did that was really memorable. They were all average. Which I suppose is like the majority of people you meet in life. Seldom have I met anyone I would call truly memorable or charismatic even in real life. So depending on your point of view the fact that Anderson's characters also fit this description could either be interpreted as staying "true to life" (a plus) or else "homogenized" (a negative). Some may find it refreshing while others would prefer the characters had more spice.

It is not a deep book. By that I mean it doesn't try to raise any real questions about the ethics of nano-tech use. Some are there in the background but it is almost like an after-thought, a consequence of the action taking place. None of the characters really agonize or reflect deeply about the implications of their decisions. In this sense, the book is like a novelization of a typical Hollywood summer action-flick. It has about the same amount of depth. Most of all I would say it is a good light-hearted read. It's great to take with you on vacation when waiting at airports or just wherever. If you like your sci-fi to have a lot of action, check out this book.

- Rambles
written by Dana Fletcher
published 8 March 2003

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