Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Quiet War

Truth be told, I'm not sure how I wound up with The Quiet War by Paul McAuley.

Well, that's not entirely true. I know I bought this at Barnes and Noble, and the more I thought about it, I think it went something like this: I was prowling the new sci-fi and fantasy books and saw the sequel to this book, namely Gardens of the Sun. The cover of said sequel caught my attention and the back cover copy piqued my interest. But once I realized it was a sequel, I tracked down the first book so I could read things in order. At least, that's how I think I wound up with this book in my to-be-read pile. It's been there for a couple of months now, so I can't be sure anymore. I think I ultimately bought it to assuage my mounting guilt over my narrow reading list. I had stuck myself into a niche, mostly Christian speculative fiction or authors I knew I enjoyed and I wanted to stretch my legs and see what else is out there.

At any rate, I finally pulled it out of the stack and started reading. This book is set several centuries in the future, after some sort of great cataclysm, one that begins as an ecological disaster and swiftly turns into a revamping of society at all levels. The inhabitants of this future Earth call this event the Overturn. Human society diverged along two paths. Those left on Earth have turned to radical environmentalism. Led by "green saints," they seek to reverse as much ecological damage as they can. Other humans have migrated, first to Mars, then tot he moons of Jupiter and Saturn, seeking freedom and autonomy to live their lives as they want. These Outers have engaged in radical genetic engineering, reshaping humanity not only to better survive this harsh environment, but also to express their creativity.

For some reason, this divergent path has upset a number of people on Earth, mostly the government of Greater Brazil, one of the three major superpowers. They've decided that the Outers have gone too far and have to be brought to heel. So they begin preparations for a quiet war, one that will reunite all of humanity under their ideals and beliefs.

It's pretty easy to tell that McAuley had a blast with his worldbuilding. There's a great deal of depth to his "future history" and how these futuristic cultures function. I was a bit unclear of how Roman Catholicism came to include a fourth deity, namely Gaia, or even if it truly did, but there you go. It's also clear that McAuley did a lot of research on genetic engineering and environmental reclamating. Or, if he didn't, he certainly figured out a way to sound like he did.

But that right there is part of the problem with this book. There were times when McAuley's technobabble overflowed and overwhelmed the book. Part of this is because many of the characters were engaged in gene wizardry, but I'm not sure that their overtly technical discourses helped the overall flow of the story.

I also felt fairly disconnected from the story as well, partially because McAuley chose to tell it from a more omniscient point of view. We never really settled in anyone's head, so to speak, and as a result I often felt as though I was being kept at arm's length from the action. That's my opinion; other people might enjoy McAuley's style and not be put off by it.

There were several times when I almost stopped reading this book because, as fascinating as the premise was, it never really seemed to take off. We skimmed over the surface of the conflict, the motivations for this quiet war never really seemed to take off. What ultimately kept me reading were the little things, the oddities that McAuley included within the stories. Jibril the cosmo angel, the Ghosts who believe they're guided by their future selves, the almost anarchic democracy practiced by the Outers, these little details and more like them kept me reading, almost making up for the book's overall deficits.

I originally got this book because I was interested in reading its sequel. Having read The Quiet War, though, I think the sequel is going to remain unread.

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