Volume 15, Number 02, Spring, 1997

Bug Park

By James P. Hogan

(BAEN, 1997, $22.00, 405 pp, hc).
Cover by David Mattingly
Reviewed by Anders Monsen
February 1997

In all of James Hogan’s novels we always can count on science playing a key role, almost equal to that of the characters in the story. Hogan is one of those ‘true’ sf writers who write fiction and science, and who succeeds in creating credible versions of both. In what may prove to be his smoothest novel to date, the cleverly titled Bug Park, Hogan cranks up the pace to near thriller level.

No, Bug Park is not set in a VW retrospective festival. Hogan combines the two fields of virtual reality with microrobotics to write a compelling, fun, and exciting story. Eric Heber spearheads a breakaway company developing miniature robots guided by people linked to the robots through VR devices. This Direct Neural Coupling, or DNC, allows a person to shrink him or herself virtually into very real and small mechanical robots, or mecs as they’re called here.

Hogan has explored methods similar to DNC before, such as Entoverse, one of his Giants novels, where people plug themselves into a network that lets them visit other worlds as if they were really there. In Bug Park he finds a new and interesting use for this out of body experience. Working on a microscale is quite different from human scale, and different physics than we’re used to applying when moving around and trying to lift items. Hogan explains these differences in ways deeply integrated into the novel, and it doesn’t feel at all like we’re learning science as we read.

Heber’s gifted sixteen year old son, Kevin, along with his good friend Taki, find even better uses for the mecs: hunting bugs and exploring the world on a very small scale. Taki’s uncle, Ohira, sees great opportunity in this as an amusement park where the rides allow users a totally new and unique experience. As the two boys explore the possibility of what they might encounter in such a “Bug Park,” they discover tools that help them survive a very real threat.

Microbotics, the parent company that Heber broke from, is not content to let him develop his ideas in peace. The parting of the ways occurred over a difference in opinion regarding DNC; Heber wanted it, the parent company said no, so he left. Now, armed with workable mecs of their own, Microbotics is poised to strike back.

Bug Park is worth every penny. The idea itself is compelling, the characters, particularly Kevin Heber, are superb. Hogan clearly loves science, and wants to impart that love to others, especially the younger generation; after reading the book I wanted to go out an build my own robots. Along with the superb cover painting by Don Mattingly, this makes a wonderful addition to any library. Like with Heinlein’s waldoes, we may soon see Hogan’s mecs in the real world. Science meets fiction in perfect harmony.

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