Brain Plague
by Joan Slonczewski
Reviewby Ann Cecil

In spite of its title, this book is really about being God. At least, that's what it starts out to be. Chrys, a young female artist who lives in a far-future, well-established, high-tech colony world, is the primary point-of-view character. In typical artist fashion, Chrys is broke; further, she came from a fundamentalist farm settlement, where she left family who desperately need financial aid. When a handsome stranger offers her a regular stipend plus full medical coverage, just for 'hosting' some microbes in an unused area of her brain, she agrees.

The microbes, who are the secondary points-of-view in each chapter, turn out to be very sentient; they call themselves Eleutherians. To Chrys' initial consternation, they name her 'God of Mercy' and insist on worship. Turns out they have names for all the 'Gods'; human hosts that carry the microbes, who are an alien race rescued somehow from a dying planet.

The world Chrys lives on is split between normal humans, who inhabit Valedon, and enhanced humans, who call themselves Elves and live on the moon which they call Elysium. Just to keep things lively, there are also sentient Sims (enhanced apes, I think), and sentient AIs, all of whom appear as characters. Chrys is a people junkie, who regularly attends gallery shows and seeks out crowds, making for a long (and sometimes confusing) character list.

Chrys also frequents the UnderWorld, a low class nightclub type scene, where she runs into Slaves, people who are almost mindless junkies. It turns out that their addiction (referred to as 'Brain Plague') is to a variety of microbes, cousins of Chrys' inhabitants, who have 'gone bad' and are burning out their host with bursts of dopamine. Chrys, being both compassionate and daring, gets herself in trouble trying to help microbial defectors from the Slaves.

As the plot level rises in complexity, and Chrys and her people take an ever greater part in saving their hosts from disaster, the focus subtly changes. The book becomes less a study in being God, and more a study in managing God. The microbial Rose is particularly effective as a character; some of the best parts of the book are her arguments on ethics with the other microbes.

All the plot twists and turns are very neatly worked out. By the end, Chrys has become more of a Captain Kirk than a God, and the Eleutherians have earned their place on the top of the microbial ladder. The book is enjoyable as an adventure; while the author slides in her 'messages' on sex, politics, and religion, they are done as relatively subtle asides.

Return to Review Indexes by author or reviewer.

Click here to return to the SIGMA mainpage.

This page maintained by Greg Armstrong