Looking back in my mental trivia file, I'm struck by how prophetic
Nick Sagan's first claim to fame turned out to be. No, I don't mean
his being the son of the last century's most likeable astronomer,
the late Carl Sagan. It's young Nick's voice saying, "Hello from
the children of planet Earth" on a recording that is still
traveling in distant space on NASA's Voyager 1.
Those simple, welcoming words connect so powerfully with Sagan's
recent emergence from the often thankless role of a Hollywood
script and screen writer to become one of the most exciting new
voices in science fiction.
That's because in EVERFREE --- the latest in his "post humans"
series, following IDLEWILD (2003) and EDENBORN (2004) --- the theme
continues to be about children maturing in a vastly changed world,
facing a future riddled with social, psychological and genetic
Set on an Earth still barely recognizable after a devastating
pandemic called Black Ep, the bioengineered super-children of
EDENBORN have taken their place among the fragile remains of human
society as cautious and often unwilling leaders who seek to avoid
the administrative mistakes, power-games and excesses of
They know better than to revisit the old utopian schemes of
humanity's past, but the idea of Darwinian struggle and anarchy is
equally repulsive. So as good kids must do, they work out a
precarious compromise based partly on the original model of the
commonwealth. Star Trek's Mr. Spock would be impressed at how
closely the post-human pattern for life follows the Vulcan path of
But as a loose-knit global family of wildly diverse personalities
themselves, the young adults and their brilliant but aging and
stressed parents soon face challenges that no amount of
hard-science training could anticipate.
It was the advances of hard science that made the EVERFREE
storyline possible, offering plague-ravaged humans at the end of
EDENBORN the hope of future healthy lives through cryogenic
preservation --- the old but appealing idea of deep-freezing the
terminally ill until their ailments can be reversed or cured. Now
armed with medical knowledge to save all but the most advanced
plague cases, Sagan's gifted post humans are faced with myriad
practical and ethical questions as they struggle to decide who
should be revived first.
Of course, the technical issues are no longer in question. Instead,
the colossal problem threatening to tear the fledgling new society
apart is a very human one --- that of integrating newly "thawed"
folks into an environment where their previous wealth and power are
meaningless. The post humans' we-are-all-in-this-together
philosophy runs smack into old-fashioned rugged individualism, and
the two mindsets mix like oil and water.
And that's what EVERFREE is most memorably about. Sagan brilliantly
treads the thin ice of futuristic ethical comment, daring to
propose scenarios that show us at our all-too-human worst, even as
we cling to the shreds of social idealism.
With his characteristic crazy-quilt juggling of points of view as
each super-kid has his or her say, Sagan's EVERFREE brings us to
the brink of new hope without quite getting there. Along the way
he's introduced old-style real conflict with weapons that kill, as
well as adventure, revelation, romance, a tantalizing brush with
alien contact, and even new offspring.
And that's where the story just stops, leaving the reader on an
unresolved chord of anticipation. So if this really was intended to
conclude a trilogy, let's hope Sagan changes his mind. He may have
become a victim of his own success, but there are far worse fates
for a new author! Personally, I can't wait to hear more from his
imaginative and quirky post humans.
Reviewed by Pauline Finch (firstname.lastname@example.org) on January 21, 2011