**spoiler alert** I read this back when it was first published and felt the need to revisit it again, even to the point of buying two different copies...more**spoiler alert** I read this back when it was first published and felt the need to revisit it again, even to the point of buying two different copies of it.
Starving artist Chrysoberyl agrees as part of an experimental protocol to become the host to a community of sentient microbes. The specific strain she gets, Eutheria, turns out to be highly temperamental and creative. There is more than a bit of science fiction handwavium in the medicine and biology involved, but it gets right to the meat of the issue.
Most of the novel centers on multi-species ethics and responsibility. Humans are gods to the intelligent microbes, with the power of life and death. However the microbes are not powerless in this relationship, having the ability to control human beings by directly manipulating dopamine in the brain. On the one side are the Olympians who control their microbial populations through sometimes brutal executions and genocide. On the other side is the microbial Leader of Infinite Light who entraps humans with the promise of unending pleasure and addiction. The conflict of the novel centers on trying to find a compromise between these two extremes.
The setting is beautifully realized. Points I liked about it was the somewhat careful consideration of a culture in which inter-species relationships are potentially more scandalous than same-sex relationships, good development of Chrysoberyl as a heroine, and richly considered and detailed settings.
It falls a bit short in plot and pacing. It's hard to tell where the climax comes, and stretching out the romantic relationship was a bit strained. Chrysoberyl's solutions to problems works perhaps one more time than it should, and the shifts in supporting characters at the ending seem a bit too tidy for my taste. For a work that's so focused on biological aspects of cognition, it seems a bit glib regarding the possibilities that sexual orientation and gender identity might be physical. (less)
A good and satisfying read with a major twist. However, if you've read Curse of Chalion or Paladin of Souls it doesn't offer much in the way that's ne...moreA good and satisfying read with a major twist. However, if you've read Curse of Chalion or Paladin of Souls it doesn't offer much in the way that's new. (less)