The Virtual Bookcase Reviews of 'Ribofunk':
Reviewer amazon.com wrote:
Nebula finalist Paul Di Filippo follows The Steampunk Trilogy, a collection of alternate-history novellas, with Ribofunk, a biotechnological hard-SF collection. As the radical shift of genres may indicate, Ribofunk is astonishingly diverse in subjects and styles, even though its 13 stories make up a future history. Despite the generous number of stories, the book's quality and creativity remain high throughout. In "Brain Wars," a genetically engineered disease afflicts an Antarctic army with enough psychobiological horrors to frighten even the famed neurologist Oliver Sacks. In "The Boot," a 2060s-era private investigator seeks a bio-enhanced thief-gambler who can see the dynamics of chaos and may therefore be able to beat any odds, even those of capture. In "The Bad Splice," the PI finds himself trapped alone in the superseaweed-choked, storm-torn North Atlantic with the diabolical Krazy Kat, a "splice," or genetically engineered animal-man, who has escaped bondage and become a splice-rights terrorist. A few characters recur sporadically, but one appears in every story: the Earth, its biosphere progressively altering with every tale, until the ultimate transformation of the final story, which brings the collection, novel-like, to a tremendous, terrifying, apocalyptic climax. Few SF writers are as imaginative, energetic, or idea rich as Paul Di Filippo, and fewer still have as broad a knowledge of science and culture. And there's no contemporary SF writer who's more fun to read.
Reviewer Rob Slade wrote:
I have previously commented (see reviews
) on the timidity of
science fiction writers, particularly when dealing with the far
future. This particular collection of stories is set less than a
hundred years on, but is very bold in prognosticating for the fields
of biological research and genetics, and, to a lesser extent,
nanotechnology and artificial intelligence. Bold, but by no means
foolhardy. While specific technologies will undoubtedly run into
difficulties, the power of the topics, and the rapid changes they
might create, are presented realistically and well. As well as
While technical details are not examined in great depth, there are
still a few troublesome areas. Power and energy requirements are
seldom mentioned, and are unrealistic in the case of DNA enhancements
that temporarily create great strength and endurance, as well as a
river, the flow of which is enhanced by a nanotechnical component. A
number of systems are used for espionage and defence. Containment
measures, such as programmed "expiry" dates, are mentioned, but in
only one case does the technology escape its bounds.
Genetic engineering and body modification are the major subjects in
most stories. Prejudice, both social and legal, against deviation
from "basal" human genetic stock is a fairly common thread. A social
spectrum of reactions for and against modification is nicely arrayed
for examination. The activities and function proposed tend to be
realistic, or, at least, capable of construction in some way.
Nanotechnology is mentioned, and used, fairly often, but isn't
explained or reviewed in any depth. Di Filippo is fairly reserved in
this regard, although the concept does turn out to be the most
powerful one in the book.
Artificial intelligence turns up frequently, but is not a strong
point. A nice touch is the use of a rating scale measured in
"Turings," but comparison between the various levels is difficult. If
Hans Moravec's forecast is correct (see reviews
), then Di Filippo
is a little conservative, but not by much.
While there is generally a "genopunk" feel to a lot of the material,
the mood is remarkably upbeat. Virtue tends to be rewarded, and bad
manners punished. Humour is fairly broad, with a lot of heavy handed
and unsubtle irony. The attempt to build a future slang can be
difficult to read. "Trumps" and "forbeses" references are easy enough
to figure out when dealing with economic activity, but "kibe," "Peej,"
and "Haj" still have me somewhat puzzled. (Did I also detect a
Kaminsky reference in one of the stories? It would fit with the
general tone.) Overall, however, the meaning of the narrative is easy
enough to follow, even if the origin of some terms is not clear.
This author is creative and imaginative, and, with a little maturing,
could be very interesting indeed.
copyright Robert M. Slade, 1999
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