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Natural History

3.61  ·  Rating Details ·  515 Ratings  ·  56 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
Paperback, 336 pages
Published December 28th 2004 by Spectra (first published 2003)
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Jan 07, 2011 Nikki rated it liked it
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
Aug 16, 2016 Stephen rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Simon Mcleish
Feb 12, 2013 Simon Mcleish rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
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
aPriL does feral sometimes
This is a strong metaphysical concept story, but instead of exploring spirituality, 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 a touch wrong, although at first it appears to be simply the risks of progress or of Darwinian evolution, so humans accept ...more
I really enjoyed this book and am so glad it's a standalone. Therefore I knew it would have at least some sense of closure before I started. The pace of the book keeps it from getting too bogged down in technical details but that doesn't mean it's shallow. With shades of Leviathan Wakes, Lock In, and Ilium, this book seamlessly welds a lot of different ideas and concepts together in one.

At times philosophical, political, technological, and a bit of straight-forward action/adventure I was quite
Nov 24, 2008 Tripp rated it liked it
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
Apr 03, 2013 David rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 29, 2009 Neil rated it it was ok
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
May 19, 2011 Саведра rated it it was amazing
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
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
Aug 24, 2012 Andrea rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 08, 2009 Kaethe marked it as stricken
Shelves: feminism, scifi, fantasy
"Frosty-assed and autistic, she was; he didn't want to touch her."

Anthony Friscia
Jan 09, 2017 Anthony Friscia rated it liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
This suffered from the issues I have with a lot of sci-fi - some cool concepts and a story that starts out that then devolves into some vaguely spiritual conclusion, with some bad biology in this one to add to it.
She's an OK writer mechanically, although every once in a while there was a clunky phrase that stuck out like a sore thumb.
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
Taryn Pierson
May 07, 2014 Taryn Pierson rated it liked it
Shelves: summer-of-sci-fi
Natural History is a space opera, though it's fairly different from many others in the genre. For one thing, it's shorter, which means Robson has to fit a whole lot of science, politics, and (of course) history into just a few pages. Her brevity likely makes some readers happy and grateful that they don't have to wade through miles of scientific jargon, but it could frustrate those who like a little more explanation. I'm not saying I wish the book were 300 pages longer, but I did find some plot ...more
Natural History
by Justina Robson

This one is hard to rate and review. Many amazing ideas but they are sort of thrown together without much story.

The story starts out with an interesting chapter as Voyager Lonestar Isol is cruising along in space and runs into some sort of space debris. In this story, told in third person limited POV the book has a compelling start.

The story continues switching POVs (always in third person) and introducing a myriad of characters. Some are called “Forged” which a b
Wesley Fox
Oct 12, 2012 Wesley Fox rated it liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
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
Elf M.
Oct 30, 2011 Elf M. rated it really liked it
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 complica
Peter Tillman
Dec 05, 2016 Peter Tillman rated it really liked it
Shelves: reread-list
Natural History is New Brit Space Opera, a la Banks & MacLeod, and Robson has clearly done her sfnal homework. I particularly liked her elegant use of current M-space theory (the 11 dimensions of branespace) as the physical background for her, um, Stuff....

Her setup, by contrast, is classical: The Forged, vat-born cyborg posthumans who do most of the heavy lifting in the 26th century, are getting tired of kowtowing to the Old Monkeys, the Unevolved guys who created them: us. As the book open
Aug 12, 2008 Martin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, sci-fi
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
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
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
Feb 02, 2016 Brendan rated it liked it
So, like 5 stars for originality, 3 or 4 for content, 2 stars for writing, and a 1 for whatever it is a book has that draws you in and through it.... readability? Honestly, a glossary in the back wouldn't have killed anyone. A one pager somewhere near the beginning of, "Yo hey, so this is how humanity has thus far developed" I mean, by the time you are given enough information to wrap your head around the politics and technology the book is almost over.

It really is pretty intriguing and I don't
Jan 06, 2008 Deirdre rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi
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,
Andreea Pausan
Mar 10, 2015 Andreea Pausan rated it it was amazing
One of the most amazing books I have read in a while. In a not so distant future, after Earth resources have been depleted, the Forged (nano-bio-mechanical entities, human consciousness put in a body of metal, steel and AI) are deployed to perform various difficult tasks like scrapping the ocean floor, terraforming, transporting people into space, etc. At a certain point in their evolution, after the crisis is over, some of these human-machine entities found themselves wanting more than just to ...more
Apr 04, 2011 Rob rated it liked it
(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
Mar 19, 2016 Saskia rated it really liked it
In this original piece of sci-fi, humanity has split into two distinct species. The Unevolved retain the original human DNA while augmenting others and fit them with technical devices to adapt them to whatever job they want them to perform.
When a new star system is found, containing an Earth-like world, full of abandoned alien cities, but devoid of intelligent life, the Augmented want to claim it as a home world, separate from Earth and their Unevolved masters.

The book is an evocative read with
Dec 25, 2011 Stefanie rated it it was ok
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
Mark Cheverton
Apr 17, 2010 Mark Cheverton rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi
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
Sep 13, 2013 Pancha rated it liked it
Shelves: sci-fi, fiction
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.
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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.
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