Limit of Vision
by Linda Nagata
Published by Tor
349 pages, 2001
Buy it online
Reviewed by Claude Lalumière
In 1995, Linda Nagata's first novel, The Bohr Maker, was released. It earned her the Locus Award for best first novel. I found much to admire about this book, especially the wild nanotechnological speculations, but I was also disappointed by its structure, which seemed to sabotage the story by insisting on a strict chronological telling of the events while the text screamed for something different. It was a promising debut. Although I was curious to see where this new talent was going, I never got around to reading her next three novels, all of which were set in the same world as The Bohr Maker. Limit of Vision, Nagata's fifth novel, seemed like a good place to check in again with this author's work: not only was it the first book with her new publisher, Tor, but it was also a fresh creation totally unrelated to her previous works.
Several decades from now, Virgil Copeland, Randall Panwar and Gabrielle Villanti make up a team of young, cutting-edge biotech scientists. They study the evolution of an artificial life form, the LOVs (so named because of their size, at the limit of vision). Unbeknownst to their employer, Equatorial Systems, or to the politically powerful International Biotechnology Commission, they have implanted LOVs into their own bodies. Tragedy strikes when one of them is killed in an incident that appears to involve the LOVs. LOVs, all artificial life forms actually, are illegal on Earth. Equatorial Systems breeds the LOVs in space and the scientists study them via remote systems. The team's secret -- that they have smuggled LOVs to Earth -- is exposed. Meanwhile, the LOV colony being kept in space engineers its own escape to Earth. The scientists become criminals. One of them, as a fugitive, travels to the site of the LOVs' crash-landing, Vietnam, where he meets a renegade video artist, Ela Suvanatat, infected with LOVs; a secretive businessman, Ky Xuan Nguyen, with an inscrutable agenda; a powerful artificial intelligence called Mother Tiger; and a cult of young children, the Roi Nuoc, who worship the AI and who see salvation in the LOVs. And then, of course, it gets complicated.
I enjoyed this book while reading it -- Nagata is a deft prosesmith -- but, unfortunately, it ultimately left me wanting; specifically, wanting more information. Many things are left vague, and the result is that the story rests on shaky foundations. To list a few lingering questions: How, exactly, did the scientists smuggle the LOVs? What was the nature of the past event that caused such paranoia about and strict legislation of artificial life forms? How did Ky Xuan Nguyen manage to negotiate a LOV protectorate? All of these are essential to the plot and yet they are dealt with unsatisfactorily; this -- whether or not this is actually the case -- gives the impression that the author couldn't come up with convincing answers. I kept hoping till the end that some explanations would be forthcoming, but, alas, no. The book buckles under the weight of its unanswered questions. And it's a shame. This novel is filled with fascinating characters, great ideas, acute speculations and bizarre creations. The inherent pleasure of these is compromised by the story's lacunae.
And there's the problem of the ending. There is closure -- a full story is told from first to last page -- but, nevertheless, the ending feels not like the conclusion of a novel but rather like the end of an episode. Neither the author's Web site nor the jacket copy makes any mention of such a sequel -- and possibly Nagata is not planning one. And yet... I could almost hear the announcer's voice: "Tune in next time on Limit of Vision, same LOV-time, same LOV-channel!" | May 2001
Claude Lalumière is the comics columnist for Black Gate. He founded popular 1990s Montreal bookshops danger! and Nebula. His published criticism can be found on his Web site.