Libra has a hidden fully-equipped chemical lab, built by her father before he was taken away and killed by the Church for the crime of possessing forbidden chemicals. Now she continues her father’s work as she fights for liberty using her extraordinary powers to terrorize those in power.
Steven Mohan, Jr., Author
Chock full of clever ideas and wry wit, Gerald Weinberg’s Mistress of Molecules explores the forces that bind chemicals, societies–and people. A fun, thoughtful read.
Michael Hunter, Blogger
What I love most about the best science fiction is that it can be read on (at least) two levels: the surface story, and the underlying manifesto. Mistress of Molecules fulfills that definition of science fiction in spades. Recommended.
Eric Horlbeck, Reader
Mistress of Molecules is a great read! It is a clever, insightful book that makes you completely rethink your “impossible” situations.
Susan Kroupa, Author
Don’t be fooled. From its setting on Precursor-a barren planet where everything that grows is toxic to human life, and where people are enslaved by a corrupt alliance of corporate and religious interests-Mistress of Molecules might seem like the kind of machine-laden, hard science fiction that is strong on technical descriptions and weak on human interest. But human interest is what drives this engaging, action-driven novel in which chemistry—both the scientific and the romantic kind-plays an important part. Weinberg, who has made a career writing nonfiction that sheds insight into our relationships with technology, infuses this book with astute, often witty, and sometimes profound observations on the nature of societies, religion, freedom, and terrorism. The book also brims with intriguing scientific ideas and speculations. But what keeps the pages turning are the stories of Andre and Libra, two gifted, troubled souls, who, in seeking to shape a better life for the inhabitants of Precursor, find their own happiness as well.
Michael Bellomo, Author
A deftly woven tale of two people, each seeking freedom…
Gerald Weinberg’s sci-fi work ‘Mistress of Molecules’ is, on the surface, a tale about chemicals, eco-terrorism, and interstellar travel. However, it works on another level – one of two people, each seeking freedom of their own. They may start out in different sections of the galaxy, but it’s when they come together that things kick into high gear.
Libra, a gifted chemist, seeks to liberate the residents of her planet, Precursor, from the pollution-spewing policies that cut lifespan by almost half. Making matters even more dangerous is the nature of her society, which is run by a quasi-religious police state.
In another part of the galaxy, the young man Andre is brough up amidst squalor and abuse, in both his own household and in the religious order he’s inducted into. Some of the book’s more tense and gripping scenes take place where Andre finally rebels, and desperately flees the confines of the monastary-island and stows away aboard a starship.
Andre, against all odds, manages to survive and thrive amidst the alien race he encounters, the Zgaarid. But his world is turned upside down yet again as he meets the mysterious and intriguingly alluring Libra on Precursor.
Without giving away any more spoilers, let’s just say that their road together doesn’t run smoothly. But it’s wide, deep, and the consequences shape the future of both the humans’ world and that of the Zgaarid.
A solid, engaging sci-fi read!
**Spoiler warning – I do give some detail of the book in my review.
Some of my favorite parts we left out so others could discover them on their own as I did.**
I was intrigued by the description of this book. I was even more pleased to find that one of the main characters, Libra, is a chemist’s daughter (as am I). The similarities really end there. Libra is a brilliant girl raised by an alcoholic Mom. She seems to be influenced more by the short video of her father’s trial that ended in his death. She’s been waiting her whole young life planning revenge against the church (which controls the government) that killed him. She has a clever plan to strike at the industry that pollutes her planet so much no one has ever seen the sun. Helping her is the fact that women on this world are seen only as baby factories without much intelligence. This allows her to keep her father’s lab and move around with anonymity. I like how her clever plans have small flaws. It’s more realistic and suspenseful.
One thing that interested me was the transformation of religion in this future. Basically, humans have taken small bits out of the texts of most major religions and combined them into one small book. The original texts are locked up tight and most people don’t even know they exist.
One common thread in both stories is the Zgaarid. They are a race of aliens who connect many planets via their trade routes. They share just enough of their technology with the people there to allow them to produce what is needed for their home world. They aren’t exactly bad but have a limited view of the races and planets they utilize.
Just when you’re ready to find out how the first stage of Libra’s plan turns out, we switch over to Andre’s story. It takes a bit to adjust – just like you were plucked off of one planet and deposited on another. This story line is a little rougher. Andre is a small child when we meet him. His world is very limited and full of abuse. He’s very bright and a lot more normal than he has any right to be. We see how he learns and grows despite his restrictions and lack of human contact and love.
We go back and forth as Libra’s plans unfold and Andre ages into a pre-teen. We meet Scovill – an agent of the church. We get to see more than just the law enforcing side of him. He’s not entirely likeable but definitely an interesting character. Libra’s income from stage one of her plan allows her to strike at the industry that pollutes her planet. She gets this money from selling to the black market. We get to see these, for a better word, mobsters and their frustration as Libra eludes identification during their transactions. Andre meets his first (and for quite a while only) friend. He is also sent away to seminary – which is completely alien and horrifying. A lot of really horrible things happen to Andre there. Some of it is hard to read but really bonds the reader with Andre.
**Spoiler alert until the last paragraph – skip if you want**
While Libra’s attack against the plant goes perfectly, the results are exactly what she imagined. She wasn’t able to predict some of the negative outcomes. This seems to come mainly from her youth and lack of a broad point of view. She learns as she goes with help from her boss – the lovable Jules.
The storylines start their journeys toward each other when Andre escapes from seminary. It’s an engaging trip with him – nerve-racking and hopeful at the same time. A couple strokes of luck get Andre onto a Zgaarid ship. He meets the two Zgaarid crewmen who give him asylum. He learns their language and how to use their technology. On one of their trade stops, they discover that the snake-like inhabitants are dying from a plague and need help to transport the disease-causing organism to another planet with a large biochemical industry. This involves a space-jump that has a higher chance of failure. And, in fact, they do get stuck in the system. But Andre figures out how to rescue the ship and becomes a hero to the Zgaarid. This status comes with some “upgrades” to Andre.
We come back to Libra’s story and get so thoroughly involved that Andre’s arrival into her world is a nice surprise. He’s there to help catch the group of subversives (aka Libra) responsible for the trouble. Of course, they connect (in many ways) and things get interesting. Libra has another plot to sabotage the subway system and again confuses the heck out of the government and church. This time, she gets to see the chaos she causes inside the mayor’s office with her new connection to Andre. Her third plot to disable all the cars in the city goes off almost without a hitch. But one of her “undetectable” canisters of battery-killing material is discovered.
To explain what happens next would completely spoil the best part of the book. The action comes fast and furious until the satisfying end. It’s a clever wrap up to the story arc and I look forward to the next book in which I hope there are more adventures for Andre and Libra. I liked this book and definitely recommend it!
Carsten Feilberg, Reader
I read this book a while back now, but I remember it vividly. Scenes from it often jumps in my thoughts – must be because it was such an easy read, so compelling and though it’s all fiction, most of it could be real. It’s believable, fun and very entertaining. I’m thrilled to see it’s part of a series.
Dennis Cadena, Reader
Etiquette bans wearing white after Labor Day. On Precursor, the planetary setting of Gerald Weinberg’s immensely entertaining novel Mistress of Molecules, such a stricture is superfluous given the impracticality of white clothing in its dismal, pollution-filled environment. Which is not to imply that Precursor eschews rules; on the contrary, it is a society replete with onerous ecclesial canons enforced by an exclusively male ministerial arm against citizenry enslaved through addiction to crocus – a drug that is both vital to human survival in Precursor’s hostile atmosphere and monopolistically controlled by a cartel of church, state and corporations. The novel’s opening scene dramatically portrays this oppressiveness in its depiction of a kangaroo court overseen by a pope who has preordained the sentence and execution of Nicholas Valois whose only real crime was being a threat to Precursor’s ruling hegemony by his discovery of the means to manufacture crocus.
A science fiction novel with humans settled on different planets controlled by religious zealots may at first seem incongruous, but humans did not invent the advanced technology that enabled their galactic Diaspora. Instead, it was given them by the alien Zgaarid to use allowing the story to posit a future that is an extrapolation of the 17th and 18th century colonization of the United States and thereby to create an imaginative, yet never improbable, setting for the two principal characters – Libra and Andre. Libra, who lives on Precursor, is Nicolas’ posthumous daughter and a skilled chemist in her own right. Andre was born on Gemariah where, although he suffered a Dickensian childhood of moralistic abuse at his father’s hand, he manages to become literate via the powers of his native curiosity and intelligence.
Structurally, the novel intertwines Libra’s and Andre’s stories leading to their fated meeting. Libra vows to carry on her father’s legacy and free Precursor from its oppression by an elaborate plan of terrorism to bring down the ruling class. Andre resolves to liberate himself from the ungodly pedophiles and tyrants who inhabit the seminary to which his father exiles him as punishment for the sin of learning to read. For both, their wits and their confidence are the keys to their salvation, but it is not a perfectly smooth road either ends up travelling. As their stories unfold, the pair has much to learn about unintended consequences and much to unlearn about their own unexamined and naïve assumptions.
While such a tale may appear thematically to be overly somber, Weinberg works with a gentler touch as he deftly weaves comedic scenes throughout. Some involve imaginative and unexpected minor characters, key to enlivening the plot and providing many delights to readers; but most are in the form of the small and big moments when Libra and Andre come to realize the limits of their own intelligence and the possibility that, as Hamlet reminds Horatio, there is more than is dreamt of in their philosophies. The moment of change, the teaching moment, is the major surprise that Weinberg’s novel holds for its readers. No one should miss the opportunity to partake in such an enjoyable and enlightening journey – something only the most magical storytellers conjure in their writings.
I enjoyed reading this book just as much as I liked First Stringers.
The planets are very well defined and thought through, there are many different themes interwoven – the science, esp. of chemistry, religion, fantatism, exploitation of people, a kind of church-police called ministers, a very naive young man – a love story that is rather nice.
I’m glad that I got this book through the LibraryThing early reviewers!
Vivid; expressive; and completely fresh. Quick easy pace and easy to read prose makes it a simple book to read; but with a nice depth to make you continue thinking long after putting it down – a tough combination to find (and achieve as a writer).
The blurb doesn’t really do the book justice. To explain might spoiler the story a bit, so I’ll just say its in the vicinity of the story. So what do we have ? An interesting bit of SF humanity is spread through the stars, but all space travel is conducted by an alien race. Mankind seems to have taken the worst parts of religion out into space with them, and our heroine rebels. Its a quick read with some bits that’ll make you think.
Ira Pearson, Reader
After reading the initial description of this book, I’d been expecting hard science fiction, perhaps involving some molecules and chemistry. That’s not really what I got, but I didn’t mind all that much. This is a fun page turner. Interesting, likable characters. Truthfully, in the current political climate, I’m surprised to find a book like this with a “terrorist” working as a force for good. Even if some of Libra’s revolutionary activities seem just a bit far-fetched, they are inspiring. I’m now looking forward to the further adventures of Andre and Libra. Trying to keep this short and sweet: I liked this novel. Recommended.
This is the first librarything review book I have not had to remember to read. I just started and then found I was near the end by the time I turned off the light and went to sleep. So it hit some sweet spot of mine, such that I did not have to struggle.
The economic order in Mistress of Molecules is a constrained hierarchy of technologies, basically various trade deals limit the spread of higher technologies on a ‘commercial in-confidence’ set of misunderstandings. Human worlds have lost the ability to innovate because the alien tech is so advanced, as indeed, it turns out, the aliens who trade the tech have lost the ability to innovate too.
The budding adolescent protagonists of course are smart enough to overcome all that, despite the unintended consequences.
Basically it’s good read, and washed in adolescent hormones it doesn’t bother with any ‘personal growth’ bollocks, such that despite the abusive background of one of the protags we don’t have to wade through pages of psychobabble (like I did recently elsewhere, I nearly committed suicide…)