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Saturday, June 7, 2008

"Cosmos Incorporated" by Maurice G. Dantec

Order “Cosmos IncorporatedHERE

Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu:

INTRODUCTION: Maurice G. Dantec—a very famous and controversial French musician, journalist and author of several French bestsellers including “Red Siren” which was adapted into a film in 2002—makes his large publisher English language debut with “Cosmos Incorporated”. His first US translation was a small press edition of “Babylon Babies”, the basis of an upcoming major motion picture titled Babylon A.D. (August 29, 2008) and starring Vin Diesel (Chronicles of Riddick, The Fast and the Furious). To tie-in with the movie, Del Rey is issuing “Babylon Babies” as a mass market paperback on July 29, 2008.

SETTING: The year is 2057 and the centennial of Sputnik I is coming soon. The world is in a very messy state, all major countries split into numerous parts courtesy of a great economic depression and the following Grand Jihad. United Humanity, or Unimanity, is a bureaucratic and technological/AI based government, the “Global Machine” that loosely controls and regulates about 80% of the world and a large part of the space settlements under the slogan “One World For All, One God For Each”. Christianity is banned as a terrorist religion and there is continual surveillance everywhere falling under UHU's aegis. The myriad small political units belonging to UHU are controlled by various interests groups, mafias, and ethnic groupings, and as long as they do not threaten UHU's overall dominance and ideology, corruption and decadence rule the day. There is massive ecological debris with places like a huge junk yard containing tens of thousands of oil-based cars which are currently banned unless operated on private roads. There are numerous refugees and refugee cities. Among UHU's political units, Grand Junction is a large metropolis located on Mohawk Native American territory where the border between New York and Quebec stands today. Grand Junction caters to people dreaming of freedom in space since it is one of the last independent cosmodromes in existence, and there is a lively market in both official and black market permits to leave Earth. People can wait for years or even decades to leave, so Grand Junction is a typical “gold rush” kind of metropolis, though here the gold is not something concrete, but the stuff of dreams. The local mayor and his Mohawk clan double-crossed some Siberian-based mafia, so a Human Termination System, an extremely skilled assassin of the Red Star order—56-year-old Sergei Plotkin—drops by to use the festivities of the centennial for a hit on the mayor. Since entering UHU space anywhere means subjecting yourself to very intrusive neural scrutiny, Plotkin has no memories to start with. He just knows he has to kill the mayor on October 4th and that he is supposed to stay at the hotel Laika posing as a Russian insurance investigator. Other than that, all the necessary skills are innate while more neural weapons and training come gradually back on.

FORMAT/INFO:Cosmos Incorporated” stands at 448 pages divided over four parts. Each part is subdivided in named unnumbered chapters with suggestive titles like “The Cartography of Notable Individuals” or “Do Androids Dream of Catholic Saints?” The narration is mostly third-person present-tense from Plotkin's POV, but there are notable exceptions where the POV switches to other important characters. The book is self-contained with the main story wrapped up very well and all the main plot points converging in an explosive climax, though there is an obvious invitation to the loose sequel “Grande Jonction” available in French only for now. The narration has a frequent musical flavor, with repeat phrases like in musical scores which invite you to hum along: “I am in the box but I am the box...I am the Machine. Do you want to speak with the Machine?” Hard octane action and plotting alternates with philosophical, theological musings, as well as musical references and themes…

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS:Cosmos Incorporated” is extraordinarily well-plotted, though you may not realize it until the very end. The book divides naturally in two-and-a-half parts, roughly in the middle. The first 200-odd pages are somewhat unusual cyberpunk, but cyberpunk noir nonetheless. The shattered, eco-busted world is described very well without heavy exposition, either directly or through Plotkin's recollections. Plotkin recollects somewhat contradictory memories about his childhood and his early twenties, as well as memories of hits done as a Red Star HTS, either alone or with various partners. He also discovers that he has a very powerful cybernetic avatar, senor Metatron, capable of penetrating high security databases, so he can plan his mission with great care, choose a convenient fall guy, and investigate several Laika occupants that are highly suspicious. Most notably there are the hotel manager Clovis Drummond; Balthazar, a former US marine cyber-dog and currently a guard; two androids, one a former sex-worker named Sydia Sexy Doll Nova 280 that fried all her pleasure neural centers upon attaining freedom and citizenship, and Vega 2501, suspected member of the Android Liberation Front and ideal fall guy for Plotkin's hit; a highly suspicious brother/sister duo, possibly neural virus carriers trying to escape Earth; the McNellises, Vivian and Jordan; and a possible drug-dealer; or maybe even fellow assassin Cheyenne Hawkwind. There are hints of a Christian conspiracy and mysterious dreams about fire and a beautiful but strange woman.

Then the book takes a very unexpected turn into deep metaphysical territory and here in the short “half” of the two-and-a-half parts of the novel, is where you will be entranced and become a Dantec fan for life . . . or where you may want to give up.

In the second part, the book returns to the main action and accelerates its tempo, though now that all the cards are on the table so to speak—or so we are led to believe—everything that came before acquires an extra dimension without being negated. That Mr. Dantec manages to turn the tables in this extraordinary way while keeping all that came before relevant and valid is a clear example of his skill as a novelist. The intricacy of the plot is slowly revealed and the stunning and unexpected climax brings a magnificent closure to it. There is a sort of epilogue and introduction to the next novel, but I would strongly suggest not reading anything about that novel until you reach the end of “Cosmos Incorporated.”

I do not want to spoil more, but a book that is comfortable with naming a lot of the famous rock stars from the 70s through the 90s, HAL 9000, Clint Eastwood, Walt Disney, St. Thomas Aquinas, Giordano Bruno and many other real or fictional characters inside a few pages is something that evokes the sf-nal sense of wonder that I love so much.

To close on a somewhat contrary note, I am reasonably sure that there will be dismissals of this book as fraud, humbug and post-modernist French nonsense, but that is another reason to read it. Masterpiece or fraud? Boring and unreadable or live-wire plotting and musical humming? Read and decide. Highly, highly recommended.


Anonymous said...

"To close on a somewhat contrary note, I am reasonably sure that there will be dismissals of this book as fraud, humbug and post-modernist French nonsense, but that is another reason to read it."

That sentence sold me on the idea of it. Will be finding a copy soon.

Robert said...

Yeah, I love how Liviu described the book. It sounds enticing :)


I read this book two times in French, believe me, It's a real masterpiece ! Probably one of the best Dantec's shot.


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