Fantastic Reviews - Science Fiction Book Review
Bios book cover Bios by Robert Charles Wilson

Tor science fiction - copyright 1999
208 pages

Book read in December 1999

Rating: 5/10  (Mildly Recommended)

Review by Aaron Hughes

       Robert Charles Wilson's last novel Darwinia was something of an alternate history novel, in which Twentieth Century Europe was replaced by a bizarre jungle landscape.  With Darwinia receiving a Hugo nomination, Wilson's reputation hit a new high.  Now in Bios Wilson tries his hand at hard SF, with a story of interplanetary exploration.  Unfortunately, I doubt that Bios will do much to add to his reputation.

       Bios is set on the planet Isis, thriving with life but incredibly toxic to humans.  Exposure to even a molecule of native life can bring sudden, gruesome death.  Mankind has established a few heavily shielded bases to study the planet and its biosphere.  Zoe Fisher arrives to join in the research, with the advantage of genetic engineering designed to make her more resistant to the hostile native life forms.  But things are more complicated than she realizes.  For one thing, her mission is somehow a focal point of complex Earth politics, in which her mentor Theo is obviously an important player, using her for his own purposes.  For another, she does not know that a rebellious doctor has deactivated her "regulator," an implanted device supposed to maintain Zoe's alertness and efficiency while suppressing unwanted responses such as fatigue or sexual desire.

       There is much to admire in this book, but it never came together as I was hoping it might.  Wilson had some nice ideas for Zoe.  The secret deactivation of her regulator and her unjustified faith in her mentor Theo opened up a lot of possibilities, but Wilson misses something in the execution.  Zoe never develops into a complete character, the intrigue surrounding her mission is not adequately explained, and she never even gets to confront Theo face to face.  Similarly, Wilson drops hints of alien intelligence at work throughout the book, but never follows through on the hints in any satisfying way.

       Even though none of the story takes place in our solar system, Wilson cleverly weaves in interesting tidbits about future conditions on Earth.  He compares the deadly Isis bios to ecological disasters that have occurred on Earth.  He also parallels nicely the insurmountable barriers between humans and Isis life and the social divisions between Earth and its asteroid colonies in the future.

       The underlying story on Isis, however, is flat.  Isis is possibly the most hostile alien environment I've seen in a science fiction story, yet there is little drama to the characters' battle to survive.  I think Wilson needed to build up a false sense of security before letting all hell break loose.  Instead, the humans are so clearly and hopelessly overmatched from the start that it just seems pointless for them to be there at all.
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Copyright 1999 Aaron Hughes

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Our book club's web pages for Robert Charles Wilson books (includes Wilson bibliography):
Blind Lake
Julian Comstock

Links to other Robert Charles Wilson reviews, articles, and websites:
Robert Charles Wilson - Home
Robert Charles Wilson - Wikipedia
The SF Site Featured Review: Bios (1)
The SF Site Featured Review: Bios (2)
Challenging Destiny - Review of Robert Charles Wilson's Bios
Robert Charles Wilson Bios - an infinity plus review
january magazine: Review Bios

For information on more science fiction and fantasy books:
Denver Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club

This page was last updated - 21 June 2013