Archive for March, 2009

Evolution’s Shore: Still good, but McDonald before his prime

March 20, 2009

Evolution’s Shore is a different kind of alien invasion story. First of all, most of the story takes place in the urban areas of Kenya and around Mt Kilimanjaro (which is in Tanzania). When I decided on the title of this post, I chose “before his prime” because one of the things that I really like about McDonald’s later work is how immersive it is when it comes to describing a foreign place. This book was written well before Brasyl and River of Gods and at this point (early 1990’s) it seems that McDonald’s “full immersion literary style” hasn’t hit it’s stride. There are certainly hints of it, but because the reader travels through the book looking through the eyes of a young Irish female journalist, they don’t really get the feeling of living on the streets in urban Kenya (the way they get the feeling of living in a future Brazil or India in the other books). The alien invasion takes the form of an infestation called the “Chaga”, a hyper-evolved semi-sentient super-organism that seems to be able to treat DNA like software code, rewriting it as it wants to such a level of sophistication that it can grow working biological replacements for electronic components once it has absorbed an original sample. The infestation’s borders are growing at around 50 feet per day and no matter what is tried, that tide cannot be stopped (there are also similar infestations in Malaysia, Central America and an underwater site in the Indian Ocean). This isn’t a “gung ho kick alien arse” kind of book – but can be thought of as an alien invasion book where the aliens are so alien as to be incomprehensible to us.

The Quiet War: Epic Hard SF

March 12, 2009

Alastair Reynolds recommended The Quiet War on his Blog. I love Alastair Reynold’s books (especially the Revelation Space universe) so I thought I’d pick up a copy. It was a bit of a gear change going from the deeply immersive work of Ian McDonald to the drier hard SF of Paul McAuley. The Quiet War is a cold-war type novel set 300 years from now. Due to ecological catastrophe in the 21st century, humanity sort of split – with the groups that had already colonized Mars, the Moon and near earth orbit (mostly today’s Western nations) being driven further out into the solar system by the more radicalized new powers. These include Greater Brazil (who now govern most of North and South America through a feudal oligarchy). The radicalized new powers basically haven’t forgiven the old powers for messing up Earth with oil and resource wars in the 21st century and the outer colonies are about all that’s left of that way of life. There are interesting hints of an earlier war (Mars dropping a small asteroid on China, Earth exterminating the first Martian colonies with a series of comet strikes) and hints at what occurred during the global catastrophe (large battles across the warming antarctic continent for dwindling fossil fuel resources) – but these tidbits are a background to the main story in The Quiet War.

The main thing that comes across in the book is that all the main characters are pretty flawed. Just as you think that you are going to like a particular character they do something you don’t really like. It is a lot like BattleStar Galactica where everyone is looking out for themselves and it is hard to take sides. Which hints at the novel’s complexity. A lot of authors paint one side as good and the other as bad (some even set up a flip to occur so that you suddenly realize that your assumptions were wrong), but few let you make up your own mind. The war happens and one side wins, but you come away from the book thinking that the side that won probably wasn’t the “good guys”.

I wasn’t roped into the book like I am with McDonald’s “un-put-downable” stuff, but I did find myself coming back to it, which is why I recommend picking this one up in paperback if you manage to see it somewhere (I got the TPB version).