Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 482
If science fiction is indeed a literature of ideas, then Macrolife is an ideal representative of the genre. George Zebrowski provides well-drawn characters and a minimal plot to propel his narrative, focusing primarily on filling the novel with ideas, conveyed by quotations from other sources, descriptions, and dialogue. The story of bulerite warns about the danger of technological hubris; debates ensue about whether planets or space colonies are the ideal habitats for humanity; and characters ponder the frustrating, but stimulating, impossibility of achieving complete knowledge and understanding of the universe. Central to the novel is one grand idea, derived from futurist Dandridge Cole: In the same way that one-celled organisms learned to combine into multicellular organisms, intelligent creatures eventually will learn to combine into a vast collective being, Macrolife, that possesses the knowledge and resources to truly conquer the cosmos.
Collective intelligences, or hive minds, are often presented in science fiction, but usually with the negative connotations of totalitarian control and loss of personal identity. Zebrowski argues that group intelligence naturally grows out of democracies, not dictatorships, and that the benevolent city-states of ancient Greece were the first forms of Macrolife. He emphasizes that mature societies must permit individuals to dissent and to follow their own impulses. He seems to assert that Macrolife, for all of its collective will, remains primarily an expression of its individuals’ needs and desires. After all, when facing its gravest crisis, Macrolife finds that it must rely on the personal vision of one of its members. Making a point that is difficult to grasp, Zebrowski argues for Macrolife as a fulfillment, not a suppression, of the individual, a being that brings together the best features of its constituents and has the power to achieve goals of which individuals have long dreamed.
A form of nonhuman intelligence such as Macrolife by definition cannot be described adequately by a human author for human readers. The novel skips over the story of Macrolife’s development and maturation, and the reawakened John Bulero finds that he cannot recover any memories of his existence as one of its parts. Despite Zebrowski’s supportive language, many readers may regard the vast and incomprehensible Macrolife as something sinister and may see John’s re-emergence as an individual as a liberation, not as a symptom of decay. It is possible that Zebrowski would not be displeased to hear readers arguing with his premises, for his primary purpose was to stimulate discussion about humanity’s possible futures, not to outline its only desirable fate.
Macrolife is a worthy successor to Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker (1937) and Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End (1953), novels that also evoke grand expanses of space and time, address profound philosophical questions, and envision group intelligence as a necessary step in the advance of intelligent life. After this novel is placed in such illustrious company, perhaps, further praise is not necessary.
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