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The Ophiuchi Hotline (2003)

The Ophiuchi Hotline (2003)

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3.87 of 5 Votes: 5
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0575072830 (ISBN13: 9780575072831)

About book The Ophiuchi Hotline (2003)

When I first began to read Varley's future history, I didn't realize something that comes through very clearly here: the society as described is based on mass murder. The process of memory recording is not murder (yet). It becomes so when clone bodies are 'grown', and then not allowed to develop naturally. The people they might have been are just destroyed, and their bodies are coopted by the original of the genotype, whose memory is forced into their novice brains. But clones are nothing but artificial identical twins. And identical twins, though they come from the exact same genotype, are NOT the same person. Ask anybody who is one. Nor does one twin own the other(s). This might become less murderous IF the twins were given a chance to develop on their own and THEN were asked if they wanted the memory recording of the original--AFTER they are mature enough to give their informed consent. But this is not what is done in this story.This story is NOT about the career of one woman who dies several times, is cloned, and goes on with her life (lives, actually, since several clones are indoctrinated with her memories in the same period). It is about the careers of a set of artificial twins whose own minds have been destroyed (by preventing them from forming in the first place), and whose brains have been essentially taken over by a parasitic memory transfer from a deceased twin. It shouldn't have surprised me, therefore, to discover that she callously allows one of her twins to be killed in her place. But it did--and it's this fact that probably initiated my doubts about the cloning process in the first place.The members of the exile society in this book (the first set in this future world--and not much future, either--not much more than 500 years) are genetic ignoramuses. I won't make any extrapolations to Varley himself, though other readers might. They know how to clone people because this is one of the many things they have learned from the Ophiuchi hotline. There is much more information about genetic engineering in the hotline--but it's deliberately not being translated. This is because the society has a very strong prejudice against genetic engineering--yet they still allow routine cloning (?).The notion that there are some humans who are inherently stupid is questionable at best. Birth defects do make some people 'idiots', but there are serious problems with this statement. Number one, birth defects are not necessarily inherent. A thing can be inborn without being inherited, and inherited without being inborn. How so? Because the womb is not a neutral environment, and children are affected by what happens to them there (this would probably also apply to the artificial wombs in the story, but as they're not described...). Thus identical twins might be different sizes at birth--though they have the exact same genetic heritage. On the other side, people do inherit things that are not phenotypically expressed. Besides obvious things like Daltonism (red/green colorblindness), which are recessive, and won't be expressed unless there is no copy of the dominant gene to produce normal color vision (this is sex-linked, which is why boys are MUCH more prone to it than girls), there are things we all have in our genetic code which are (almost) never expressed. For example, all humans have genetic coding for a tail--but only in a few rare cases are humans born with even a vestigial tail. The reasons why the variations don't end up in the physical body are varied: but such unused coding exists in all humans, and, for that matter, in most creatures.Furthermore, the term 'idiot' has (or has had) a technical meaning. Idiots not only can't read--they can't talk, either. It simply makes no sense to argue that the majority of all humans are incapable of literacy because of inherent limitations in 'intelligence'. But even if it did, they wouldn't be 'idiots'. There are other terms for greater, but still lower than an archetypical (and virtually meaningless) 'norm'. And it doesn't make any more sense to argue for generations of idiots if the majority of survivors come from a very small gene pool, either. Humans are ALREADY extremely inbred. They never have had much genetic variation. Oh, it's not the worst such situation--humans are not anywhere near as inbred as, say, cheetahs. And even the most limited of human groups are very nearly as varied as much larger groups. There is less than one-tenth of one percent difference between ANY two humans--but that minimal variation is widely scattered throughout the world. So any survivor group would likely have very nearly the whole spectrum of variation.And it's irrelevant anyway, if it's possible to alter the body (and the somatic, rather than reproductive, DNA). A person like Javelin can adapt to virtually any situation as and when she chooses. The symbs are a convenience, but they're not necessary. The nullsuits could easily be modified for indefinite functioning. Why bother to modify the reproductive DNA? This is dealt with in more detail in Steel Beach.One issue that isn't really dealt with is the argument that there are no communicable diseases in the '8 Worlds'. This is an implausible argument, because bacteria are essential to human survival. Not only do people need the probiotics to properly digest their food, but there need to be bacteria to grow foods. And not only are bacteria essential for normal plant growth--but plants and other nonhumans are explicitly NOT excluded from genetic engineering. Out of curiosity, by the way, what has become of fungi?Such engineering may (and probably will) affect the symbiotic bacteria associated with the plants. But bacteria are also affected by independent evolutionary pressures. And these pressures would be quite a bit faster-acting than in larger creatures with fewer offspring, because generation times are very short, and because there's a greater chance of things like mutations due to copying errors in living things that have millions of offspring per individual, rather than the dozens for many multicellular creatures.Which means that even if no harmful bacteria were brought to the closed colonies of the extraterrestrial Solar System (not very probable to begin with), the odds are that new ones would develop to fill the empty niches. There's a barely plausible alternative--that probiotic bacteria were developed and installed in humans to fill all the tempting empty niches, and are carefully installed in all babies and decanted clones ever since. But this is not mentioned--and might not be tenable in crisis societies.I have to say that I doubt the possibility that any species driven into interstellar space would be dispensable. The 'Ophiuchians' (actually an amalgam of many different species) would not be able to dispense with ANY novelty, if they had any interest in continuing survival. The idea that there is too much variety, and that there is unbridled competition, is just absurd.Of all the people I felt sympathy for, the one I was most dismayed by was Vaffa and all his (Vaffa was born a boy) clone brothers and sisters. It's bad enough that Boss Tweed so abusively corrupted her (a mother, by definition, must be a she, whatever sex the parent was before or after) own child: but that it was done over and over again to generations of new twins (generations in the sense that they were generated--the passage of time between generations must sometimes have been no more than hours) is the very worst. If the Vaffa(s) can be rehabilitated, it's still bad--but it's worse if the brainwashing is ineluctable. Early on, Lilo wonders whether Vaffa might be a soldier. She doesn't dismiss the possibility--she simply argues that she's not a specialist in mental illness...which implies that there do exist such experts. Who could help? Well, maybe. But where are they? They don't appear in the text.They might be useful for Boss Tweed, for that matter. Boss Tweed is at the least an obsessive/compulsive type. Several reviewers seem to think that the people of the 8 Worlds are not aware of who the original Boss Tweed was. The evidence indicates that they are: and that they DELIBERATELY have chosen 'leaders' who have qualities they find repulsive at best, because they want to emphasize the humanity and fallibility of the elected figureheads who 'rule' them. It's clear that most administrative work is NOT done by humans in this society--and that there are very few laws. What there are are policies and procedures--where there's any government at all. It's explicitly stated that there's none in the Rings--but there's not much elsewhere, either--which is why Boss Tweed can get away with so much without attracting a Nast to act as a gadfly. Whatever the official laws, people pretty much do what they choose to, if they can afford it.One other dissonant note is that there don't seem to be any Tsiolkovsky habitats. The Symbs are almost completely independent. But there are few or no communities that are independent of planets--or at least of fairly large rocks. If humanity had spread throughout the Solar System, it's unlikely that the 'Invaders', however free of linear time or of conservation of energy, could seek all of them out and destroy them--especially if the habitats could be made self-sustaining, without need of machinery to operate and maintain them.

Try not to take this personally. In the year 2050, invaders from another galaxy enter our solar system and take over Jupiter and Earth. They have come to make contact with intelligent species like themselves, which unfortunately does not include the human race. On earth they are interested in only whales and dolphins. Human beings they put in the same category as beavers and muskrats. By plowing under the surface of the planet, they cause most earth life to starve. I suppose the invaders are meanwhile in the oceans partying down with whales and dolphins. Humans that have already begun populating the moon and the eight other planets the invaders leave to their own resources. We are like squirrels: just part of the landscape unless we become a nuisance and require an exterminator.Progress on the eight worlds has been speeded along by transmissions that appear to come from Ophiuchi, a star seventeen light years away. Even though most of the information is unintelligible, mankind now has sophisticated technologies such as cloning, advanced space travel, and these really nifty suits that fit you like a skintight mirror and allow you to exist for thirty hours in a vacuum.Lilo is a geneticist condemned to death for unlicensed experimentation. She is freed by Boss Tweed, ex-president and now among the wealthiest men in the universe. (Why the historical reference here I never understood.) Tweed finances the Free Earth movement, a fool's errand that hopes to expel the Invaders. Lilo is smart and spunky. She has been killed three times trying to escape and is now living as her third or fourth clone. She finally goes off on Tweed's sponsored expedition to Poseidon, Jupiter's crummiest moon. From here on out there are so many plots and so many agendas that the book turns into the wild adventure that has earned it classic status. The characters are smart and capable of facing each challenge thrown their way. Varley's settings, whether they are the manmade caverns on Poseidon or Tweed's absurd Disney-like environments, stay true to their own logic and give each episode its own feel. There has also been a disturbing new transmission from Ophuichi. It is garbled like all the rest, but it is unmistakably a bill, and there are some serious late charges.

Do You like book The Ophiuchi Hotline (2003)?

A future in which cloning replicas of people with the full memory and personality of the original at the time, but where such clones are tightly regulated to prevent more than one copy living at once; a brilliant scientist who breaks one of the few inviolate laws in that society who is sentenced to permanent, total death only to be 'rescued' by a shadowy political figure who keeps killing and recloning her until she stops trying to escape. You could easily make a novel out of that, especially once more than one version of that person makes their way out into the universe, following very different paths. But I haven't really spoiled anything; that's pretty much just the setup for Varley's fearlessly headspinning debut. I appreciate the brevity (he packs an awful lot into 234 pages) but at times it moved almost too fast to keep up, especially when Varley just casually drops big ideas and big changes in passing (which, admittedly, is also part of the novel's thrill). The characters are mostly told-not-shown to us, but ultimately the ideas and the plotting carry the reader forward regardless. And I haven't even mentioned the bleakness of the universe (it's not Mass Effect, but the Mass Effect team probably has this novel somewhere in their DNA) or any of the aliens. Or the symbs. Or what happens to Earth. A quick, fun read with lots of stuff to think about (even if, unlike a lot of sf, most of it doesn't seem to comment very much on our world).
—Ian Mathers

Lo más interesante que plantea John Varley es el dilema moral que supondrían los clones,algo que nos haría llegar a una inmortalidad simulada en la que si mueres, te reviven en tu clon. Varley analiza muy bien este tema y pienso que es lo más importante del libro ya que a nivel estructural se dispersa con numerosas premisas muy interesantes pero sin concretar ninguna de ellas. Sin embargo, los personajes son atractivos y tienen un desarrollo creíble por lo que a pesar de la continua sensación de comenzar de nuevo una historia diferente cada pocos capítulos hace que continúes leyendo para saber qué le ocurre a ese grupo de humanos que viajan de planeta en planeta.

My five-star rating of this book should not be taken as an indication of its literary merit; Varley's prose in his first novel is not exactly masterful. It does, however, get the job done, and this is a pretty impressive debut. This is the kind of science fiction book I enjoy reading: it's about half a dozen different things that somehow all fit together, it contains a bunch of scientific extrapolation (from a mid-1970s perspective), and the plot is pretty ingeniously worked out...and all that in only 180 pages. These days it would be a 900-page trilogy. To get his story told (and to enable the readers to have multiple viewpoints on the action all at the same time) Varley uses the device of clones that are endowed with "taped" consciousness of their "original." Although this isn't exactly groundbreaking thinking about the possibilities of cloning, it is a rather ingenious solution to a plotting problem: clones in the service of science fiction literature. Varley also does a wonderful job of world(s)-building: the generic details he mentions are treated as if they are natural, entirely part of a culture whose logical progression you can almost envision. I'm a big Charles Stross fan, and Varley's novel seems like a fairly recent ancestor of the kind of work Stross does well: part adventure, part science-based imagination of a dazzling future, even if humanity gets run out of the solar system in the process.
—Christopher Sutch

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