Summer 2013 Book Reviews Part II: David Marusek’s MIND OVER SHIP

Mind Over Ship by David Marusek —

We are so good at adapting to changing conditions with our knowledge and technology that we may deceive ourselves into believing that we are above nature. But only a fool believes that. Nature always has the last word.

David Marusek, MIND OVER SHIP
David Marusek, MIND OVER SHIP

David Marusek’s MIND OVER SHIP is the best novel I’ve read in a long time. A mashup of Philip K. Dick, Aldous Huxley, William Gibson, and, of course, the author’s own signature spry, satirical, occasionally beautiful, and frequently off-the-hook literary touch, MIND OVER SHIP is a stunning literary and intellectual feat. While it’s difficult to rival the sheer power of the first third of MIND OVER SHIP’s predecessor, his powerful debut COUNTING HEADS (borrowed from his acclaimed novella “We Were Out of Our Minds With Joy”), this sequel makes up for COUNTING HEADS’s occasional irregularity of tone and pace while maintaining the intricate world-building and eccentric cast of characters which made COUNTING HEADS such a pleasure for the mind and spirit. MIND OVER SHIP delves deep into everything from genetics, clones, transgenic animals, bioethics, artificial intelligence, the singularity, the Other, economics, corporate takeovers, legal disputes, social hierarchies, psychological colonization, biological and cultural evolution, identity, the nature of consciousness, and reality versus perception. In its final acts, the novel even flirts with space opera, generation ships, deep-space colonization, socialist rebels, extraterrestrial life, environmental disaster, and the nature of life (human and otherwise) itself.

While it’s easy to think of Marusek’s novel as merely dabbling in a plethora of ideas, the reality is contrary: Marusek has developed a world (begun in COUNTING HEADS) which is vastly complex and real, and probably the most full-realized future I’ve encountered since Asimov’s FOUNDATION novels or Frank Herbert’s DUNE. What Asimov did for the fall of the Roman Empire, what Herbert did for the modern Middle East, Marusek has done for our modern social hierarchies and economy.

The first 100 pages or so start off well, but gradually Marusek’s novel develops into something unimaginably deep and intricate which also resonates with the Occupy Wall Street protests. It may tax readers with its intellectual rigor and juggled plots, but those who apply themselves will reap the benefits. It’s well worth reading COUNTING HEADS — which on its own is incredible — in order to enjoy this superior sequel.

Marusek has a way not only with words and characters, but with the power of speculation. He’s developed a world where corporate juggernauts manipulate the masses; invasion of privacy is an inevitable invasion of body, mind, and identity; AIs and clones suffer existential crises; obedience is a matter of genetics and computer code; death and birth are meaningless anomalies; and everyone has spies and secrets. His motley crew of characters struggle with increasing difficulty to remain human, to remain alive, in a world crumbling around them. It’s a wild ride to MIND OVER SHIP’s finale, which is — for all the social, political, technological, and moral upheaval of its story — a surprisingly elegant testament to the endurance and beauty of human (and “other”) life.

Science fiction at its best: speculative, allegorical, and undeniably human at its core.

3 thoughts on “Summer 2013 Book Reviews Part II: David Marusek’s MIND OVER SHIP”

  1. Excellent review, Haris! I’ll be starting “Counting Heads” soon and will look forward to this later on. How would you say does it compare to “Cloud Atlas” in terms of imagination?

    1. Thanks, Cole! The science fiction aspects of Cloud Atlas on their own weren’t that imaginative (the clone dystopia and post-apocalyptic worlds are huge science fiction tropes), but the way Mitchell wove them into a broader history was what made them so creative. Counting Heads (and Mind Over Ship more so) approaches some of the clone/dystopic material in a way which is imaginative all on its own. While Cloud Atlas was sprawling in historical scope, challenging readers to make the connections between eras/themes, Counting Heads/Mind Over Ship focus on unraveling the complexity and scope of one single time period, requiring readers to “connect the dots” between an array of intricate plots, characters, and concepts simultaneously. In that sense, Marusek’s work is a lot more challenging to a read; he treats every reader as both intelligent and attentive to a high degree. :)

      1. Thanks for your reply, Haris! Yes, I found the historical breadth of Cloud Atlas amazing, but I definitely see your point about it recycling some of the tropes you mentioned. I’ll let you know how I like Counting Heads before tackling Mind Over Ship!

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