By Robert Charles Wilson
First Published: 1999
Jacket Art by Jim Burns Seeley
Review © 2012 by Stephen Roof
Genre: Science Fiction
BIOS is a science fiction novel by Robert Charles Wilson about humankind’s first encounter with a planet sustaining abundant life outside our solar system. Scientists are excited to find a whole new eco system that is much different than on Earth but are faced with one serious obstacle. There are microorganisms in the air, soil, and seas that are extremely toxic to humans. Despite the difficulties and dangers, scientists are dazzled by the enormous potential for discoveries. They also find ready funding from pharmaceutical companies who see the potential for enormous profits from a planet that is ripe for exploitation due to no signs of intelligent life.
A young woman named Zoe is sent out to this farthest outpost of humanity with bio-enhancements and new protective gear to give her the ability to greatly extend exploration without the bulky isolation suits that have been required up to this point. Zoe has survived a traumatic childhood that she would just as soon leave behind and is thrilled to be finally starting her mission of exploration for which she has been training for years. Her main challenges are in relating to the others around her and a nagging worry that her artificially regulated emotions seems to be less stable than she remembers in the past. Then when equipment malfunctions occur and toxic containment seals are compromised on not just Zoe’s base but on other exploration bases as well, the priorities change from exploration to survival.
Wilson creates a detailed world with interesting biology that poses a serious challenge to scientific exploration. He also adds interesting personalities and some intrigues created by politics. When the biohazards are found to be even more difficult to manage than anyone could have imagined, the highly regulated and orderly scientific enterprise starts to crack under the rapidly increasing stress.
Wilson creates well developed and realistic characters that are soon caught up in battling a very realistic crisis. Rest assured that this novel is not written like a fairly tale. Even main characters will have to pay the ultimate price. While most of the scientists are highly dedicated members of a tightly knit exploration team, the overall manager and a political visitor remain aloof and seem to have their own agendas. As the crisis goes from bad to worse, everyone finds out more about themselves as well as about the planet. Some people even discover new aspects of a universe that are completely unanticipated based on an Earth centric viewpoint.
BIOS is a relatively short novel that provides an intriguing look at alien biology and scientific exploration under the most extreme circumstances. Despite its short length, it has some interesting ideas about the universe and variations on intelligent life.
I recommend BIOS for the interesting premise and the tension created by the fight for survival against alien microorganisms. The only people that I wouldn’t recommend read this novel are those who don’t want to read about fatal animal scientific experiments or graphic human death.