cover image Earthling


Tony Daniel. Tor Books, $22.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-312-85571-0

In Asimov's in 1996, Daniel (Warpath) published an elegant novella called ""The Robot's Twilight Companion""; this novel is a rickety and questionable expansion upon that work. The original tale, reprinted here (perhaps in slightly revised form) as the beginning of the novel, focuses on Orf, a drilling machine imbued with an artificial intelligence along with the personality noetics of his designer. As Orf grows symbiotically into something more than man or machine, the civilized world is toppled by massive earthquakes and the economic tsunamis that follow. Leaving the novella behind, the novel shifts from Orf's first-person narrative to follow Jarrod, one of the Rangers (remaining members of the National Park Service) who live in the treetops and fend off border skirmishes with bow and arrow. Jarrod embarks on a mission to discover why compasses have gone haywire; along the way, he beds several barbarian women (including his mother); questions the humanity of his own tribe; and meets up with Orf, who reveals that he, as well as intelligences he's discovered living within the earth's crust, are responsible for both a polar magnetic shift and an imminent reshuffling of the planet's tectonic plates. While millions die, Jarrod survives, and the remaining humans evolve to a higher realm of existence. Daniel foists his themes--the threat of tribalism, the destruction of the environment, the dumbing down of America--on the reader with little subtlety. The expansion of the original novella seems arbitrary, moreover, as does Daniel's choice of a new hero to replace the more complex and intriguing Orf. (Dec.)