Book Article

Sci-Fi 101: Preventing Earth Defects

CAMOUFLAGE Joe Haldeman

Two Earth-bound aliens (a changeling and a chameleon) spend centuries trying to uncover their origins—until an other-worldly artifact is pulled from the ocean in 2019. Logline Terminator 3 meets Brother From Another Planet. Source of Angst ''I've been black and Asian and Hispanic in America.... A white prisoner in the Bataan Death March... There's nobody on this planet more 'different' than me.'' Key Concepts Identity theft, extraterrestrial communication. Lowdown Haldeman trips through history wearing alien goggles, but his message is all about human nature. B+

LIGHT M. John Harrison

The lives of three protagonists -- one on present-day Earth and two in the 25th century -- are intertwined via a mysterious, devious intelligence. Logline Donnie Darko meets 2001: A Space Odyssey. Source of Angst The ''Shrander'' intelligence appears variously as a gory horse's skull, twin female mobsters, and a sentient space vessel. Key Concepts Quantum mechanics, wormhole travel. Lowdown First released to raves in the U.K. in 2002, Light is mind-bending in both its conceptual framework and literary deftness. A.

EDENBORN Nick Sagan

A handful of gene-ripped brainiacs awaken from 18 years in virtual reality to discover that a plague has eradicated humanity. Their job: Repopulate Earth (even though they can't stand each other—or kids). Logline The Omega Man meets The Brady Bunch.

Source of Angst ''New children walk the Earth, but what kind of children are they? Herein lies the problem.''

Key Concepts Cloning, hacking, artificial intelligence. Lowdown Long on mythological references and a bit short on believability, Edenborn presents a microbial apocalypse worth living through. B

NEUROLINK M.M. Buckner

Twenty-third-century banker Dominic Jedes must cope with a high-tech replica of his tyrannical deceased father as well as a worker rebellion on a sunken submarine. Logline Wall Street meets The Empire Strikes Back. Source of Angst The workers expected Jedes to offer a deal to rescue everyone, but ''he was a banker, not a miracle worker.'' Key Concepts Utopian recycling, bio-modification. Lowdown Dante's Inferno goes cyberpunk in Buckner's toxic future tale of working-class bravado. A-

Originally posted Sep 10, 2004 Published in issue #782-783 Sep 10, 2004 Order article reprints