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[techbooks] REVIEW: "Ribofunk", Paul Di Filippo

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  • Rob Slade, doting grandpa of Ryan and Tr
    BKRBOFNK.RVW 990729 Ribofunk , Paul Di Filippo, 1996, 0-380-73076-6 %A Paul Di Filippo %C 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019 %D 1996 %G
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 8, 1999
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      BKRBOFNK.RVW 990729

      "Ribofunk", Paul Di Filippo, 1996, 0-380-73076-6
      %A Paul Di Filippo
      %C 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019
      %D 1996
      %G 0-380-73076-6
      %I Avon Books
      %O +1-800-238-0658 http://www.avonbooks.com/Eos
      %P 241 p.
      %T "Ribofunk"

      I have previously commented (cf. BKMEMORY.RVW) on the timidity of
      science fiction writers, particularly when dealing with the far
      future. This particular collection of stories is set less than a
      hundred years on, but is very bold in prognosticating for the fields
      of biological research and genetics, and, to a lesser extent,
      nanotechnology and artificial intelligence. Bold, but by no means
      foolhardy. While specific technologies will undoubtedly run into
      difficulties, the power of the topics, and the rapid changes they
      might create, are presented realistically and well. As well as
      entertainingly.

      While technical details are not examined in great depth, there are
      still a few troublesome areas. Power and energy requirements are
      seldom mentioned, and are unrealistic in the case of DNA enhancements
      that temporarily create great strength and endurance, as well as a
      river, the flow of which is enhanced by a nanotechnical component. A
      number of systems are used for espionage and defence. Containment
      measures, such as programmed "expiry" dates, are mentioned, but in
      only one case does the technology escape its bounds.

      Genetic engineering and body modification are the major subjects in
      most stories. Prejudice, both social and legal, against deviation
      from "basal" human genetic stock is a fairly common thread. A social
      spectrum of reactions for and against modification is nicely arrayed
      for examination. The activities and function proposed tend to be
      realistic, or, at least, capable of construction in some way.

      Nanotechnology is mentioned, and used, fairly often, but isn't
      explained or reviewed in any depth. Di Filippo is fairly reserved in
      this regard, although the concept does turn out to be the most
      powerful one in the book.

      Artificial intelligence turns up frequently, but is not a strong
      point. A nice touch is the use of a rating scale measured in
      "Turings," but comparison between the various levels is difficult. If
      Hans Moravec's forecast is correct (cf. BKRBTMMT.RVW), then Di Filippo
      is a little conservative, but not by much.

      While there is generally a "genopunk" feel to a lot of the material,
      the mood is remarkably upbeat. Virtue tends to be rewarded, and bad
      manners punished. Humour is fairly broad, with a lot of heavy handed
      and unsubtle irony. The attempt to build a future slang can be
      difficult to read. "Trumps" and "forbeses" references are easy enough
      to figure out when dealing with economic activity, but "kibe," "Peej,"
      and "Haj" still have me somewhat puzzled. (Did I also detect a
      Kaminsky reference in one of the stories? It would fit with the
      general tone.) Overall, however, the meaning of the narrative is easy
      enough to follow, even if the origin of some terms is not clear.

      This author is creative and imaginative, and, with a little maturing,
      could be very interesting indeed.

      copyright Robert M. Slade, 1999 BKRBOFNK.RVW 990729

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      rslade@... rslade@... slade@... p1@...
      Canada, the designated driver of North America - John Rogers
      http://victoria.tc.ca/techrev or http://sun.soci.niu.edu/~rslade
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