Manta’s Gift by Timothy Zahn

Manta's GiftBook Cover

It has been a while since I have read anything by Timothy Zahn. I loved his Star Wars Thrawn Trilogy and Hand of Thrawn Duology. I also enjoyed the Conquerors’ Trilogy. I’d like to go back and re-read those sometime in the future, but for now I’m focusing on chipping away at my collection of books I haven’t read yet. I was very pleased at how well Zahn developed the Zhirrzh in the Conquerors’ Trilogy, so I was curious to see how well he does here in Manta’s Gift.

The Qanska are not the typical aliens you would expect so see in a Sci-Fi novel. They look like huge manta rays flying through the various levels of ever thicker atmosphere in Jupiter. The vast majority of aliens that I have read about have been humanoid. The ones that are not humanoid are usually portrayed as monsters (Starship Troopers), or there is a huge communication gap. Zahn challenges this stereotype and succeeds in describing a completely unique and intelligent alien race.

Several years after first contact in Jupiter’s atmosphere, scientists learn to communicate with the Qanska through tonals, which seem to me kind of how whales communicate. Computers are designed to translate between English and Qanskan, but the functionality isn’t as good as expected. To overcome this, a radical plan is devised which will bring humans and Qanskan closer together. The Five Hundred, a group of the most powerful humans, sponsors this project.

Project Changeling’s goal is to send a human ambassador to be reborn inside a Qanskan body. (This is what drew me to this book in the first place).Once the transformation is complete, the new being will have the mind of a human but physiology of a Qanska. It turns out that both the humans and Qanska have motives other than simply developing stronger diplomatic relations and better communication. Early on it is revealed that The Five Hundred suspect that the Qanska possess a stardrive capable of interstellar travel, since it is estimated that they have only inhabited Jupiter for a few hundred years. The Qanskan motive isn’t revealed until much later.

Qanskan culture is described through the eyes of Raimey, a paraplegic given the chance to be reborn through Project Changeling. We learn the details of Qanskan life one bit at a time as Raimey does. Also, there is a complex ecology including predators, prey, and plant life. I never pictured that life could be possible on Jupiter, but Zahn makes it seem plausible. It is obvious that Zahn spent quite a bit of time developing the Qanska.

Project Changeling is touted as a scientific mission, led by Jacob Faraday, one of the first explorers to make contact with the Qanska. He is given full control of the mission, with Raimey’s welfare as his top priority. Sure enough, that doesn’t last very long because Arbiter Liadof is sent to Jupiter to “oversee” how the progress going. Liadof reveals for the first time that the true goal of the project is to locate and obtain the stardrive.

The Five Hundred expect that Raimey, now known as Manta, will remain loyal to humans once they reveal their plan to uncover the stardrive. However, Raimey/Manta develops his own set of priorities as he develops into a full grown Qanskan. Not only does transform physically, but emotionally as well. At his core he had been an extremely selfish person, but he eventually learns to prioritize others above himself. The Five Hundred are determined to obtain the stardrive whether Raimey/Manta is willing to help or not.

The outcome is very uncertain as Zahn unleashes plenty of surprises as the plot progresses. There is a fair amount of action, but the bulk of the book focuses on Raimey/Manta’s transformation and the depiction of Qanskan society. The conclusion was unexpected, yet satisfying. This was an enjoyable book and a somewhat fast read at just over 400 paperback pages. If you want a truly unique experience, read Manta’s Gift. You will not be disappointed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please prove you are a human * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related Post

The Adjustment Bureau (2011) directed by George NolfiThe Adjustment Bureau (2011) directed by George Nolfi

After looking through my media center PC, The Adjustment Bureau happened to be the highest rated movie that I hadn’t seen in the science fiction category. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, other than a 7.1 metascore from IMDb. About 20 minutes into the film, I realized that this was probably one that my wife would enjoy. The best I could categorize this movie would be romantic science fiction.

The Adjustment Bureau starts out by following the end of a political campaign for Senate. David Norris (Matt Damon) ends up losing the election because of a leaked photo of him mooning someone at his college reunion. Seeking some privacy, he goes to the men’s restroom to prepare his speech. After a while, a woman pops out of a stall, apologizing for the intrusion. She was hiding out in the men’s room to avoid security for being a wedding crasher. They begin to exchange witty banter about her situation and his unfortunate downfall. (more…)

Asimov’s Mirage by Mark W. TidemannAsimov’s Mirage by Mark W. Tidemann

Mirage book cover

Mirage is a mystery that involves the investigation of the massacre intended to halt talks of a treaty between Earth and Spacer worlds. Derec Avery, from the Robot City series, starts an investigation to determine why both the Resident Intelligence in charge of security and his new experimental robot bodyguard Bogard failed. Early on there seems to be a conspiracy. Derec and Ariel, which have parted ways since Robots and Aliens, are forced to work together to find out who is behind the attack. What follows is an investigation with twists at almost every turn. (more…)

Isaac Asimov’s Robots and Aliens Book 1: Changeling by Stephen LeighIsaac Asimov’s Robots and Aliens Book 1: Changeling by Stephen Leigh

Robots and Aliens Volume 1 book cover

One thing I like about this book is there is a nice eight page synopsis of the whole Robot City series. Even after just reading the series, it was a nice refresher for the events leading up to Robots and Aliens. This new series involves Asimov’s challenge to the authors to describe what might happen if robots encountered an alien species. How would they treat them? How would the Three Laws apply?

I particularly enjoyed this first book because it addresses one of the main questions I had regarding the Three Laws of Robotics. What does the key phrase “human being” actually mean? Throughout Asimov’s books and it is explained that the laws aren’t as simple as the English translation. They are complicated sets of positronic potentials that govern every action of a robot.

In Changeling, Stephen Leigh describes a robot model that is given a very simple definition of “intelligent life form” as an equivalent. This idea seems to work very well in this book and after several chapters we see how this experiment intersects with the Robot City plotlines. Also, we get to see Derec use the powers he was given to control Robot City. One thing that did bug me a little bit was how little of the main plotlines was advanced.