Michael Kanaly,
Virus Clans
(Ace, 1998)

Virus Clans is in many ways the book that Greg Bear's Darwin's Radio tried to be and failed. Now that Bear's take on stepped evolution is up for a Nebula Award for Best Novel, perhaps there will be interest in a novel which, while based on a similar scientific premise, adds current theories from other areas, and combines them into an intriguing and disconcerting premise.

Classic science fiction takes one or more scientific possibilities, accepts them as true for the purposes of the novel, and speculates on how things might play out under those circumstances. In this way it's much like scientific research itself, with experimentation based on a hypothesis. Michael Kanaly follows this form, though in a more modern way: he alternates between a protagonist learning about the viral clans of the title while dealing with a research bureaucracy with its own goals, and contrasts this with more free-floating sections occurring at various times and in various locations in the universe.

Kanaly's prose style is very readable, and his characterizations are better than most science fiction. Still, the excitement of the novel is in its ideas. The science is solid as far as this layperson can tell; I've read books on some of the areas included and the basis of the book is plausible -- which is one of the things that makes it disturbing! I greatly enjoyed reading a novel where the science is plausible and the author did his research; I grow annoyed when an author takes advantage of my willingness to suspend disbelief by including sloppy or nonexistent research (as Bear did in at least one area in Darwin's Radio). And I particularly enjoy it when an author draws together research in several areas, and from them creates a new and interesting premise.

Virus Clans isn't space opera, although some scenes occur on planets and places far away. It's not a morality tale, and it doesn't end with a neat conclusion. It's a fictional scientific "what-if," and I recommend it highly to those who like such novels. It's a good one!

[ by Amanda Fisher ]

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