A diverse array of characters—hominids, animals, and objects that in 2023 are still considered inanimate, such as doors and trains—are “people” in this multi-generational story about a corporation terraforming their privately-held planet Sask-E and their workers (which the corporation owns as part of their “proprietary ecosystem development kit,”) who want to turn Sask-E into a public, democratically-governed territory.
The plot tracks the nitty-gritty of building complex things—environments, relationships, governments—as Sask-E evolves over thousands of years into a pseudo replica of Pleistocene Earth. Newitz’s heroes are members of the Environmental Rescue Team, an interplanetary force of first responders and environmental engineers who keep ecosystems in balance and stage disaster rescues. Apart from a fanciful invention called a “gravity mesh,” which allows some characters to fly, Newitz—who is also an award-winning writer of non-fiction—grounded the story in science.
“I really did try to have a very grounded, scientifically accurate approach to ecosystems. For example, when Destry, my network analyst, connects to the environment, she has these sensors in her hands, which allow her to read a vast sensor network all over the planet. The Environmental Rescue Team has scattered these tiny, microscopic biodegradable sensors so that they can read the health of the trees, soil, insects, everything. So it gives Destry this almost magical connection to the planet Avatar-style, except it’s not some hokey Tree-of-Life thing. It’s just a sensor network, much like sensor networks that we’re developing now on Earth and using in a lot of places.”
Annalee Newitz writes science fiction and nonfiction. They are the author of Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age and Scatter, Adapt and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction, which was a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize in science. They’re also the author of the novels The Future of Another Timeline, and Autonomous, which won the Lambda Literary Award. As a journalist, they are a writer for the New York Times and elsewhere, and have a monthly column in New Scientist. They are also the co-host of the Hugo Award-winning podcast Our Opinions Are Correct. Previously, they were the founder of io9, and served as the editor-in-chief of Gizmodo.