Playing God

Posted by : atcampbell | On : May 2, 2000

Playing God by Sarah Zettel

Five people attended the discussion of Playing God, and one person submitted comments by e-mail. In this futuristic science fiction novel, a human corporation is hired to revitalize the ecology of a planet that has been ravaged by decades of war. The planet’s indigenous inhabitants, who have finally reached peace, agree to be completely evacuated to orbiting space habitats while the planet’s environment is being saved. The plot of this book chronicles the first few months of this ambitious project.

We found a lot to admire about this book. We liked Zettel’s writing style, which told the story cleanly yet compellingly. The major characters were an interesting mixture of humans and aliens of various ages and professions. The author did a good job explaining the difficulties and huge scope of the planet-saving project.

The aliens in this book were well developed and worthy of particular note. The touch and smell of humans was deadly to the aliens. The gender roles in their society were unusual, with females handling all positions of responsibility. The politics of the alien world had several competing and well-thought-out factions with realistic tribal behavior. Many of the alien characters had a great deal of depth, so we rooted for some of them as much as we did the humans.

This book did have a few minor drawbacks. We all found the alien names confusing. The ending seemed rushed. The men in our group did not appreciate the author’s decision to make all the alien males nonsentient.

While most of the group was happy with the largely political nature of Playing God, two members were disappointed that this was not the book they’d expected from the cover material. They had been looking forward to a hard SF novel following the revitalization project from beginning to end, but that was simply not what Zettel delivered.

In general we found Playing God to be an engaging novel full of interesting ideas, and we would recommend it to fans of political science fiction.

–A. T. Campbell, III