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Bugz: Contact Book Zero by David Jackson

1/07/2011. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

Buy Bugz: Contact Book Zero in the USA - or Buy Bugz: Contact Book Zero in the UK

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pub: The Bugz. 391 page illustrated hardback in box cover. Price: GBP 19.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-9554214-1-9.

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'Bugz' opens with a scientific dissertation on quantum physics which tells us that sub-atomic particles are not predictable. If we study them we may even discover...our souls. There follows a note dated 2016 by Elsie Ashcroft from Cambridge which mentions life-forms smaller than atoms who influence human history in the way that people used to believe the gods did. They are Bugz. Shortly after the Big Bang, the Bugz lived in near perfect harmony in the Zyberian Empire which extended across the universe. They lacked mass but had loads of energy and power. It was a kind of paradise but something went wrong and disrupted the balance of power between black and white Bugz. The blacks didn't want harmony any more. They wanted to rule.

So on to human history in the near future. Jonathon Stern, a science journalist is going to the CERN project in Geneva to cover a new particle experiment being supervised by the brilliant scientist Icarus Ashcroft, Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University. Icarus and his ancestors, one of whom was an assistant to Sir Isaac Newton, have, unknown to them, been influenced by Bugz, for the little mites can fit snugly into certain human DNA and tend to run in families. Shortly before the conference that precedes the experiment, Stern interviews Bertholdt Lipp, head of the giant Blipp corporation which is changing the world with nanotechnology. Blipp tells him about Bugz. At the conference, Mrs, Ashcroft is assassinated in a crowded hall.

So far, so good. The notion of big forces for good and evil influencing human history dates back to E.E. 'Doc' Smith's classic 'Lensman' books and found modern manifestation in that excellent television series, 'Babylon 5'. It's a good idea and lends itself to cosmic SF of a type that is popular. Author David Jackson writes fluently and does a good job with the human scenes in this drama. Unfortunately, the Bugz and their history soon get you down. I had a navy friend who used to refer to sleep as 'stacking up some Z's'. David Jackson gives all his Bugz names beginning with Z and stacks up so many that sleep is almost unavoidable.

I did my best. However, when the evil black Bug Ziel was plotting to extend the domination of the blacks by intricate political manoeuvring and spies in the opposite camp it became a bit silly. When the good white Bug Zein decided to set off on a quest to the Empty Quarter of Zyberia in a vessel called a Zyreme, named the Zargo, accompanied by Zim, Zon, Zleo and Zag, I felt my enthusiasm take a sharp turn downward. I flicked forward a few pages to see if any human events were coming up and found our adventurers referred to as Zargonauts. I also noted that we were in Z land for the next fifty pages and I could take no more. I didn't know Zim from Zag and I didn't give a zit.

This book comes in a box and is lavishly illustrated with quite good black and white drawings by Malcolm Fryer. Publication credit is taken by Art-Amis an outfit that does art usually and not bad art at that, judging by their website. This appears to be the first novel they have published and it needed an editor. Oh Lord, how it needed an editor.

This is sad. I was impressed by the opening of the book and I wanted to finish it and I wanted it to be good. David Jackson has his heart in the right place and is influenced by the right kind of guys, like Asimov. But in 'The Gods Themselves', the good Isaac invented aliens who were really alien. Sentient sub-atomic particles is a great idea but when they all have names beginning with Z it gets confusing. When they scheme and plot like humans it is not very alien and when you set them off on quests and call them Zargonauts you have gone beyond parody, pastiche or even pantomime. I didn't get past page 134.

I wish Mister Jackson had submitted his magnum opus to a different SF editor and received guidance. The late great John Campbell would have seen the promise but trimmed his sails suitably. He has a lot of talent and obviously knows some science. He writes convincingly enough of human beings, his descriptions are neat and the prose - when not stacking up Z's - is lively and readable. He just bit off more than he could chew with such an ambitious project. Clearly, he has the stamina and ability to write novels and should do more of them. I wish him luck.

Eamonn Murphy

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