Mind Over Ship: David Marusek's hyperfuturistic, hyperimaginative soap-opera

David Marusek's Mind Over Ship is the long-awaited sequel to his groundbreaking 2005 debut novel Counting Heads, and it was worth the wait.

Mind Over Ship returns to the awesomely weird and exciting Marusek future, where humanity trembles on the verge of transcendence, splintering into people, clones, avatars, AIs, temporary and permanent models (some made without the model-ee's consent) and a thousand other fragments. Each of these factions battles for the best deal it can get — even as the individual members of each clade fight for their own personal best interests.

Mind Over Ship is so complex, with so many storylines and so many incredibly inventive premises, that it trembles on the verge of breakdown, acrobatically walking on a tightrope over the pit of too-weird. It's a book that demands and rewards attention, as it explores a hundred important philosophical questions about free will, destiny, bioethics, intelligence, and duty.

For example, there's the story of the betrayal of the cold-sleep deep-space ships, which are meant to be launching by the dozens to distant, unexplored stars (but which have been co-opted for use as space-condos in a hostile corporate takeover). This leaves their erstwhile owners — semi-sovereign collectives of Jesus freaks, defective spare-organ clones of VIPs, fatalistic Ukrainian Chernorbyl survivors, and other disaffected groups yearning to breath the air of distant worlds — out in the cold.

Then there's the biowar flu, "the 24-hour nonspecific grief flu," which causes its victims to feel, well, nonspecific grief for 24 hours, before their immune systems fight the bugs off. Or do they?

NASTIEs are nanoweapons, the scale of a dandelion seed, which take root and begin coopting nearby matter, sending out tree-like roots to seek out the raw materials to assemble themselves into "deadly weapons of mass destruction." The army that launched the NASTIEs disbanded sixty years ago, but the seeds still flutter on the wind, periodically dissolving whole housing complexes as cloned first-responders seek to disassemble them before they can realize their destiny.

Clones are in trouble — different kinds of clones, provided by different workforce vendors, are all going through massive, wrenching existential trauma. Do they have "clone fatigue" that causes them to run against type? And of course, every clone wonders if his creators imbued him with "musts" (secret, tailored cocktails of trace minerals whose absence will kill a clone in short order) and "candy" (like "musts," except that these cocktails evince extreme ecstatic responses, acting as a powerful Skinnerian conditioning agent).

There's even weirder life in Mind Over Ship: a beheaded tycoon whose head is grafted onto a cloned baby's body; her mother, secretly alive, encoded in the modified brains of "panasonic" fish around the world. And then there's the lively media: nits and the nitwork, micro-, mezzo- and nano-scale spybots that form a ubiquitous surveillance grid around the planet, a grid that can only be avoided by taking powerful purgatives that destroy the artificial fauna populating your outer and inner self before passing through an airlock.

Marusek's hyperfuturistic, hyperimaginative soap-opera is a tour-de-force of imagination, philosophy, dark humor and humanity. Let's hope he writes the next one quickly!

Mind Over Ship