Metareview: Manta's Gift
(Tor, August 2003, US$7, 416 pages, paperback, ISBN: 081258032X.
Hardback also available, $24.95.)
This is a solid, straightforward first-contact/coming-of-age/action-adventure
tale, set on Jupiter -- or, more accurately, within Jupiter's thick
atmosphere, where the ray-shaped Quanska live. The Quanska (literally)
into a human Jupiter probe, to the surprise and consternation of both
races. Once communication is established, the Quanska offer a near-term
fetus as a host-body for a human brain. Matt Raimey, a young quadriplegic,
is recruited, and is duly reborn as a baby Quanska.
"I love the central idea of Manta's Gift -- an ornery, shallow
and callow human youth trades a hopeless existence as a quadriplegic
for a chance to be reborn as an alien being with a (reasonably) human
mind. The description of a birth from the point of view of the thing
being born is... interesting. The depiction of what is a truly alien
society -- in setup, in physiology, in mindset -- is well done, and
is a fascinating thread to follow throughout the book. Everything
is accounted for, in suitably alien ways..."
-- Alma Hromic, www.sfsite.com/02a/ma145.htm
Once the earthly Powers That Be twig that the Quanska aren't native
to Jupiter, they want that alien stardrive -- now! Rather than trade
for it, they send a goon to extort it. She opens 'negotiations' by kidnapping
a bunch of Quanska children. Worse, the kids escape...
In a fine twist, the Quanska themselves are desperate for human help
with their big problem -- their introduced ecology is falling apart.
And there's a catch to their 'stardrive', too.
The crisp dialog and hardball power-politics remind
me of prime-period Resnick (eg Santiago). On the downside, the
Quanska Big Secret is, well, incredible. Fortunately, it's revealed
late, and the book has other virtues. But it's sloppy and dumb [note
"As usual, he draws his characters simply -- there is a distinct
tendency to caricature -- and often poses them rather stiffly on the
stage. Yet Zahn is ingenious in his plotting and well versed in keeping
things moving. Manta's Gift leaves the reader feeling very
--Tom Easton, www.analogsf.com/0304/reflib_04.shtml
My favorite Zahn remains Spinneret (1985), and if you missed
that one, you're in for a treat. Manta isn't in that class, but
it's an entertaining way to pass an evening. My grade: "B".
"Manta's Gift suffers by comparison to Poul Anderson's classic
novelette, 'Call Me Joe', which covers virtually the same thematic
ground of a transmogrified human agent becoming a true Jovian... his
Rainey remains a human in a Qanska suit throughout."
-- Norman Spinrad [scroll down], www.asimovs.com/_issue_0307/onbooks.shtml
1) **SPOILER WARNING** **SPOILER WARNING**
The ecologic crisis turns out to be caused by, of all things, dead
bodies piling up in Jupiter's lower atmosphere. The bodies block
some of the healthful radiation from below, that turns out to be a requirement
of the Quanska ecology.
OK, fine, but the Quanska have only lived on Jupiter for 2000 years!
Further, they are stated to be a small population -- a few million --
and long-lived, to boot. And this is Jupiter, fer chrissake,
which is, umm, rather large...
100 yr lifespan = 20 generations in 2000 years. Even assuming a Quanska
population of 100 million, this is just 2 billion corpses, which ain't
gonna block much healthful Jupiter rads at all. Elapsed time to calculate
this: about 2 minutes.
This is the sort of scientific gaffe common in the pulps fifty years
ago. It's embarrassing, and disheartening, to see this sort of thing
in 2003, from a reputable, well-educated author.
[...back to main text]
Review by Peter
D Tillman; More of Peter D Tillman's reviews can be found at:
SF Site and Amazon.com. Google "Peter D. Tillman" +review for many more!