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June 10, 2009

The Quiet War - Paul McAuley

The Quiet War is Paul McAuley doing modern Space Opera. I haven't read any of McAuley's recent thriller marketed novels, or his older Space Opera novels but I love Fairyland and many of his short stories.

The start of the story is optimistic: Earth is being returned to vast tracks of wilderness by green eco efforts, and the off-world colonies around Jupiter and Saturn have created self-sustainable colonies in hostile locations. The political systems are different however with Earth being ruled by Mafiosa style families and the off-world colonies running a variety of liberal democratic models, including voting on everything all the time. The clash is intentional. On Earth Brazil is the major world power, and Greater Brazil has subsumed large chunks of America. The Moon is an Earth colony, but Mars was abandoned due to past troubles, causing the migration to the outer planets.

A lot of this detail is set-up in the first few chapters, and although I liked the setting and back-story it felt a bit too infodumpy, and the style not like I remember McAuley's writing. I presume this was conscious, to write in the style of Space Opera, whatever that is. The plot is split into three threads, but not delivered in an alternating chapter style, but instead a little loose, with chunks of one plot delivered in several chapters, then more of another, which I found irritating. I think the flow would have been easier to get into if it was a stricter format. Instead I found my mind wondering what the other characters were doing in these extended sequences.

The ideas and the science are Hard SF, with plenty of biology, most of which passed well over my head. Which I guess is a consequence of Hard SF, if you know any of the science it's great, if you don't it's technobable. The story doesn't shy away from the ideas and consequences however and the consistency of the story universe is convincing and clever.

The plots build, focussing on the tension between Earth and the outer colonies, becoming more exciting as they progress but you can see what's coming. It's inevitable, and that in many ways that is the point of the story. Whilst the start is optimistic and futuristic the ending is pessimistic and the story as a whole has little faith in man transcending base human reactions. Which I found disappointing. I found myself becoming increasingly depressed as I read it, I wanted the wonder of the Solar System to be unlocked by humanity, and instead ended up with a brawl.

If you're looking for an idea what this book is similar to, it reminded me of the off-Mars parts of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy, both in scope, style  and ideas, but not anywhere near as optimistic in tone.

I wanted to like The Quiet War more than I did, and although it's a competent Hard SF story it did it's best to alienate me with a pessimistic vision of the future. In the end my emotional reaction to the story overrode my cold scientific appreciation.

1 Comment

One time I was flying cross country with a girlfriend, and she was bemoaning how awful air traffic was. I said something like, "You know, it is kind of interesting: People dreampt of flight for thousands of years, aspired to it as the kind of thing that would liberate the soul, and never once did anyone assume it would be inseparably tied to the smell of stale coffee and some guy with a southern accent on the PA saying 'If you look on the left, you'll see a glittering sea of mobile homes...'" I'm sure I wasn't so erudite, but that was the gist of it.

So of course I now find the idea of a gloriously brilliant high tech future wonderworld that are simultaneously hoplessly mundane that smell of stale coffee and full of southern accents and trailer parks kind of compelling. I'll have to do something with that.

But as for now, I think I'm a-gonna' read this book of yours. It sounds neat!