cover image Capacity


Tony Ballantyne, . . Bantam, $6.99 (390pp) ISBN 978-0-553-58929-0

In this uneven sequel to Ballantyne's Recursion , humans can live on as digital clones or "personality constructs" of themselves, leading multiple lives in the numerous matrices of 23rd-century cyberspace and enjoying equal rights with their physical compatriots. Like the first series entry, this novel interweaves several story lines concerning the dubious existence of an omnipotent artificial intelligence known as the Watcher, who controls the Environmental Agency, the organization in charge of all aspects of the digital and physical worlds. With the help of a geisha-garbed agent (and her numerous digital clones), a woman seeks asylum from a cyberspace killer determined to repeatedly torture and murder her digital incarnations. Meanwhile, on a remote planet in the physical world, a social worker investigates a series of artificial intelligence suicides that may hold apocalyptic implications. Though Ballantyne writes with engaging authority about high-concept technological novelties, the three protagonists often come across as self-parodies, spouting clumsy and predictable exposition that grinds the tale to a halt during what would otherwise have been memorable climaxes. This is a shame, because the inventive plot, which interweaves such staples of the genre as dilemmas of free will, memory and identity, contains enough mind-bending twists and double-crosses to satisfy most cyberpunk fans. (Jan.)