Nick Sagan,
(G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2004)

To those with an interest in astronomy matters, Nick Sagan has been famous since he was a child; it is his voice, after all, that any alien civilization coming across the Voyager spacecraft in the depths of interstellar space will hear bidding them "Hello from the children of planet Earth." In 2003, Nick emerged fully from the shadow of his illustrious father Carl Sagan (the absolute hero of my youth) with the publication of his first novel.

Idlewild consisted of a fascinating story surrounding a group of gifted young people at a very special school. Their education took place in a virtual reality setting, as did their leisure hours during the school year. They could visit any time or place, and instead of dorm rooms they had their own elaborate domains built to suit their tastes. As they neared their 18th birthdays, however, the fabric of their virtual reality school began to fray. One student came up missing, and another one, Halloween, lost his memory as a result of an attempt on his own life. As things went from bad to worse, Halloween's desperation to escape led to a revelation that would change him and his fellow students forever. Their entire lives, not just their time at Idlewild, had been lived in virtual reality -- in the real world, the Black Ep virus had wiped humanity off the face of the planet, and these special, genetically engineered children represented the last ditch effort of scientists to keep the human race alive. Upon maturity, when the youngsters would learn the truth, it would be up to them to hopefully find a cure for the virus and begin repopulating the earth.

The Idlewild students entered real life prematurely -- and reduced in number. Edenborn takes up their story some 18 years later. The survivors divided the Earth between them, and two of them (including Halloween) retreated into isolation, leaving only four individuals to pursue the mission they were given. Even with these four, divisiveness reigned. In a world population of just over a dozen people, two different families have come into existence. The European family consists of female clones engineered to be resistant to Black Ep (and thus not entirely human); the African family consists of clones who are essentially human and, as such, dependent on vitamins and drugs to keep the deadly virus at bay. One family maps a purely technological path to the future, while the other seeks a more human, spiritual path that looks both backwards and forwards at the same time. Student exchanges take place periodically, which makes for an interesting mesh of worldviews. The European girls reflect the austere scientific mindset of their "mothers," while the Africans follow the Islamic teachings of their "father." Meanwhile, Halloween, the protagonist of Idlewild, is almost completely absent from the scene until the latter stages of the book.

This carefully constructed new world soon finds itself in grave danger. The African children come under the attack of a variant of the Black Ep virus, while an unknown outside entity invades the virtual reality component of the European society, unleashing secrets that could tear that family apart. These changes are made most manifest in a child named Penny. Genetic engineering or no, Penny displays all-too-human traits; regarding herself as the best and brightest, she rebels when she doesn't get her way. That rebellion, in combination with the destabilization wrought by an outsider, threatens the very founders of this new world.

Nothing draws distant "relatives" together like looming tragedy, but the reunion of all but one Idlewild survivor by no means guarantees that disaster will be averted. We follow the whole story through the eyes of several narrators: a young voice from each family along with the seasoned voice of one of the founders. The blend of spirituality with scientific artificiality makes for an interesting contrast in lifestyles, while the madness of young Penny works like a virus of its own, distorting the whole experience into something increasingly dark and deadly. One longs for the return of Halloween, the voice and main character of the first novel, for his is in many ways the real voice of reason in this crazy post-apocalyptic world. His eventual return to the fold, however, comes too late to truly save the day. As in the utopia that inspired this novel's title, an outside agent succeeds in seducing one of the innocents and bringing about a dramatic fall from grace.

Edenborn ends with both tragedy and a sense of hope, setting the stage for what should be a fascinating third entry in the series.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 20 August 2005

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