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The Caloris Network - Nick Kanas ***

As the subtitle 'a scientific novel' suggests, this is another in Springer's innovative series attempting to combine science fiction and science fact, but is sadly not one of the stronger entries in the series.

In this novella (despite that subtitle, I can't really bring myself to describe 100 pages of fiction as a novel), we join the crew on a mission to Mercury - but they haven't been told the whole truth about their mission, lives have already been lost, and what they discover there proves quite a shock - a totally alien form of life.

On the good side, we discover quite a lot about Mercury, not often written about in science fiction (perhaps, in part, because it's a touch boring). There's also a bit about astrobiology, and the possibilities of life that isn't carbon-based. Of itself, this is nothing new, but the approach taken by Nick Kanas, slightly bizarrely a psychiatrist who used to work for NASA, is relatively novel.

The biggest problem, perhaps, is this book's functioning as a novel. For a large part of the opening section we are waiting for this part of Mercury to warm up in the sunlight, and, frankly, very little happens. To counter this, Kanas resorts to a whole lot of jumping around, with assorted flashbacks, which tends to confuse more than than they succeed in keeping the story going. There is also the classic weakly-written fiction assumption that in order for a character to have an idea they have to be inspired by remembering or seeing something. Here there was a particularly painful example where the main character 'remembers' that her Alzheimer's suffering father responded to music and lights more than speech. 'So, we tried sending out a radio hailing frequency to the [alien], and it responded to us.' Huh? Not only is it a gratuitous 'I remembered X and it gave me an idea,' the resultant idea is a total non sequitur.

So it's certainly not a book I'd recommend reading for entertainment as pure science fiction - it was no page turner. However, the combination of the aspects described in the text and the additional factual information in the 'science behind the fiction' section at the back about Mercury and silicon-based life was interesting enough to make this worth a look.

As I've commented on other books in the series, the pricing, in this case £15 for a 100 page novella plus about 20 factual pages in paperback, means this is very unlikely to be justifiable as a personal purchase - the publisher points out it is accessible free to academics and students through Springer's ebook deals.

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Review by Brian Clegg

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