Natural History
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Natural History

3.53 of 5 stars 3.53  ·  rating details  ·  308 ratings  ·  45 reviews
A daring and original new novel from one of sci fi’s most provocative voices, Natural History is a stunning work of bold ideas, unforgettable characters, and epic adventure as one woman seeks to explore what may be the greatest mystery of all....

Half-human, half-machine, Voyager Isol was as beautiful as a coiled scorpion–and just as dangerous. Her claim...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published December 28th 2004 by Spectra (first published 2003)
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For those interested in SF, this is a fantastic read. I'm only giving it three stars because I'm finding myself increasingly less drawn to this kind of SF -- I'm not so interested in technology and singularities and post-humanism. I'm less interested in a character's final physical transformation and more interested in the almost totally silent voice in this narrative, her penpal who has some romantic feelings for her. I want to know how he reacts, and I never got to find out.

The technology is e...more
Christ. I'm completely bowled over by this. Justina Robson, I am officially your bitch.

To be able to pack such a punch of a story in such a relatively slim novel is a real achievement:
The tech simply roars its triumph of imaginative plausibility, the choice of words is utterly poetic even though being used so sparely and economically and the plot is Fan.Tas.Tic.

It's wonderfully inventive, smart without ever sounding smug, the politics are sound in an oh-nuts-nothing ever-bloody-changes-does-it k...more
Justina Robson's Natural History is a mix of great ideas, cool creations and mediocre characters that was a fun read, but ultimately not terribly satisfying. Her book is set some centuries hence where humans have created the Forged, genetically re-designed humans made to excel at certain tasks. Robson presents a more interesting take on the Cylon problem, how does created life deal with its creators? In this case, one member of the Forged stumbles onto a new technology that both reveals a potent...more
Anna  Matsuyama
Jul 01, 2014 Anna Matsuyama marked it as how-about-no
Frosty-assed and autistic, she was; he didn't want to touch her.

A priori ‘Historia natural’ prometía bastante: un futuro lejano en el que la civilización está dividida entre forjados (humanos que han sido manipulados mediante nanotecnología y genética) y no evolucionados (humanos, simple y llanamente), y en donde los forjados son utilizados en misiones que van más allá de lo humano. La manera de conseguirlo, entrenándolos en un ambiente virtual para posteriormente transformarlos y manipularlos como si de máquinas esclavas se tratase para las misiones más var...more
There is a great deal of potential in this novel, but the potential goes unrealized.

In a future where human minds are combined with machines and animals through genetic engineering (I assume this is how it's done--it's never clearly defined in the book), humans have spread throughout the solar system, mostly by means of creating new beings that can handle different environments. There is a growing pressure for all of these created beings (the "Forged") to achieve some kind of independence.

A for...more
First, you have to love a book that's a serious, hard-SF novel but also has a character that's a living military spaceship called a Shuriken Death-Angel. You also have to admire that Robson can give a character that name and make it sound, in the book's context, genuinely fucking badass, and not like something from a crappy anime.

Anyway, I read Robson's short story Cracklegrackle, which takes place in the same universe, in The New Space Opera 2 and fell in love with the idea of the Forged (genet...more
Simon Mcleish
Originally published on my blog here in February 2004.

While Alastair Reynolds and Richard K. Morgan seem to have become established as forming the vanguard of a new school of British science fiction writers, Justina Robson has yet to gain such a level of recognition. Perhaps her novels, while sharing many of the concerns of these writers, have so far proved just a little less inventive.

Natural History is her third novel, and is her take on the ancient science fiction plot of the first alien cont...more
aPriL meows 'n growls TLDR
This is a strongly metaphysical concept story, but instead of spiritual explorations, it is about a scientific/quasi-emotional fusion idea of oneness, as conceived by a mathematical, multidimensional (as in quantum theory) being(s?) with only one purpose - to find meaning. However, it isn't nice or wonderful. It's more like that Twilight Zone story of contact where things seem peculiar although of the nature of progress or of Darwinian evolution, and humans accept the friendly aliens offer to tr...more
Such a good, good read- or rather, such a good book for ME. I freaking love alien biology, embodied knowledge, space travel, philosophy, the ever present failure of cultural relativism, mystery, mystique, beautiful sentences and thought provoking turns of phrase, escape, individualism, letter writing, thought experiments and the transcendental, so this book won my heart from the chapter we first meet Zephyr, a 'cultural archeologist' in love with a (possible) machine-jellyfish hybrid, and k...more
David Golding
Natural History is writing of the first order.

Here there is an entirely revised system of technology, biology, psychology, and attendant politics. Here there is a broad cast of people, where not only their characters have arcs, but so do their relations and their beings, and so does the very ground of the world. Here there is quartz, which is a painting of Shinjuku Library, which is an alien planet, which is a watching extradimensional stuff. Here there are riches of creative writing.

The encount...more
How did I miss this? I think in 2003 I was still trolling the shelves of our local Borders for new books, and this being of British origin just wasn't there - and how did it not get nominated for a Hugo / Nebula when clearly inferior novels were? But thanks to Goodreads I finally have the pleasure of Ms Robson's nicely paced exploration of humans, post-humans, and hybrids meeting up with "stuff" in a very entertaining - space opera? hard scifi? - probably a mixture, nicely seasoned with very qui...more
This book's got a whiff of novelty about it. It tries hard to establish that early on.
It's not that it turned out to be all form and no substance but that there's way too much that's dreary about it: conventional metaphysics, cliched space fantasy errors, conventional economics, cliched speed-of-plot stuff, bourgeois ethics, conventional psychology, anti-AI bigotry and so on. I would have stopped reading at "soul" (we are spared "human nature") if there was no substance. But there definitely is...more
Set in the far future, Justina Robson's Natural History is a compelling tale of the first human encounter with an alien technology. Except this is a brilliantly new way to tell the story of such an encounter...

Humanity in Robsons future has engineered itself into many forms to explore the universe - the Forged - each form specialised for a function such as mining gas giants, exploring interstellar space, terraforming worlds. Many billions remain as the Unevolved on Earth while still others are M...more
Elf M.
I read these books out of order. I just finished the book that came before the recently-reviewed Living Next Door to the God of Love, Natural History , and it leaves me with this one strong impression: while I can see how Robson got from Natural History to Living Next Door..., I really, really wish she hadn't.

The second book had wonderful, complex characters and lovely set pieces, but it didn't all add up to a meaningful story; Natural History, on the other hand, not only has the same complicat...more
J Wesley
Natural History is a far future sci-fi novel with amazing scientific knowledge involving bioengineering, theoretical physics, artificial intelligence, and spiritual ascension. This stuff his high brow and very interesting. Unfortunately the story is not very compelling and got fairly boring at times. I wanted to enjoy this book but parts of it were pretty tough to get through.

The characters are incredibly diverse on the surface. Isol is an interstellar (sub-FTL) ship that encounters an alien art...more
Nancy O'Toole
During a fifteen year journey away from earth, Isol makes two startling discoveries: alien technology that can transport her across the galaxy in the blink of the eye, and an abandoned planet that can still support life. Isol wants this planet to be a new home for her and the other Forged, the half-human/half-machine individuals who live an oppressed existence on earth. Before they can settle, the unevolved have called upon Zephyr Duquesne, a cultural archeologist, to examine the planet and hope...more
This is an interesting read. The concepts are hardly new, humans adapted to be the brains behind machines, several writers have done it before. Alien Tech that wants to absorb humanity. What is different is Robson's own vision of this. The choices people make and have made for them, the scary logic involved in the choices and the sheer humanity of the characters.
I was sucked in by the characters, the way they came to life off the page. I really did care for them and wanted to see what happened,...more
(6/10) Far future post-human sci-fi is not my favourite sub-genre, and this book didn't do a lot to change my mind. There were a lot of cool concepts in here about different types of conciousness, and as long as the book was spending time with Isol, Zephyr and her computer it was cool. But then there was a whole murky political subplot that I just completely didn't grasp. Robson immerses the reader headfirst into a strange world with lots of foreign terminology, and while I've liked books that d...more
Mark Cheverton
An ambitious book taking the route of describing a radically different far-future rather than taking the safe route of adding more gizmos to existing society. Because of this it can at times be overwhelming with new nomenclature and ideas coming at quite a pace.

Overall Justina holds it together and wraps the book up nicely with a satisfying conclusion which is often difficult to do when you introduce 'god-like' technologies as the main theme. Worth a read for an exploration of what humanity migh...more
The science and philosophy in this novel will be satisfying to fans of the harder edge of sci-fi but for me much of it was a bit overwhelming. (Maybe it was because I read this over the holidays; this is pretty much the antithesis of a "beach book.") I did enjoy the characterization of Isol, Zephyr and Corvax and the transitions they made throughout the course of the book but felt that their arcs were more intellectually rather than emotionally satisfying. I would still recommend this as a good...more
A first contact story, where introduction of a mysterious alien wish-granting technology catalyzes the political upheaval between good old humans and their highly engineered children species. Not actually bad or anything; but also not in the least engaging to me. There was this thematic . . . thing about form and function and personal destiny, plus a psychologically clumsy virtual reality subplot, but it just didn't fit together right and I never mustered up enough interest to work it through.
It's a hard book to describe without making it seem silly (cyborg/robots attempting to throw off the yoke of human political, economic and genetic oppression through the use a newly discovered pan-dimensional substance called the "Stuff" which has some interesting side-effects), but I liked it as it started out very strong. She is a great writer, the book is a page-turner and there is just enough hard-science mumbo-jumbo to keep everyone happy. It's just that the end was very disappointing.
Christopher McKitterick
An intriguing look into one possible future for our species. Though the title might be ironic, I think it contains multiple layers: Intelligence becomes its own force for evolution, transforming from out of the natural world into something new but different; but doesn't intelligence arise from natural beings? I recommend this book with only minor hesitation, because it feels a bit cold or distant. Perhaps that's the best tone, though.

A must-read on posthuman or transhuman reading lists.
A cranky cyborg, engineered for interstellar travel, comes across a new technology and a new planet - finally - a chance to get away from the monkeys! The politics of the "unevolved" and the "forged" play out across the solar system while an historian is shipped out to determine if the planet has ever been occupied - in the belly of the cyborg ship. I sometimes had trouble keeping track of the characters - they could have been better defined - but was thrilled by a new and interesting story.
A cranky cyborg, engineered for interstellar travel, comes across a new technology and a new planet - finally - a chance to get away from the monkeys! The politics of the "unevolved" and the "forged" play out across the solar system while an historian is shipped out to determine if the planet has ever been occupied - in the belly of the cyborg ship. I sometimes had trouble keeping track of the characters - they could have been better defined - but was thrilled by a new and interesting story.
I'm not quite sure how I feel about this one. More than "it's okay" but less than "I liked it." I really enjoyed the concept of the Forged, and liked Zephyr's character. But the end was unsatisfying. It's like: I wanted the book to be about the Forged, but it ended up being about this other thing entirely. And this other thing wasn't uninteresting, but it only really appeared right at the end, so the whole book felt like a prologue to a story that the book then didn't get too.
I just reread this novel and found myself picking up on things I hadn't seen in it the first time. It is dense because it is one of those science fiction that is both a big idea novel and a philosophical novel. Surprisingly, unlike many big idea science fiction books, the characters are well fleshed out - they are very human, which of course is all the more impressive since the book is about posthuman characters.
Shultonus shultonus
Interesting twist on Cyborg technology, and an even more interesting twist on alien technology.
Imagine where humans have been fitted with AI implants, and the bodies of oversized animals, each animal serving a specific purpose. Now imagine them revolting. This is the background for this fast-paced read, where you never really know what to expect.
Shana Yates
This was an interesting book ... not perfect, but thought provoking. Characters were colorful and varied. Robson has a wonderful imagination and her portrayal of a future where there are unevolved humans (basically, us), as well as the Forged (humans that have been created in fantastical forms to perform specific functions), was fascinating.
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Justina is from Leeds, a city in Yorkshire in the north of England. She always wanted to write and always did. Other things sometimes got in the way and sometimes still do...but not too much.
More about Justina Robson...
Keeping It Real (Quantum Gravity #1) Selling Out (Quantum Gravity #2) Going Under (Quantum Gravity #3) Chasing the Dragon (Quantum Gravity #4) Down to the Bone (Quantum Gravity #5)

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