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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

“The Quiet War” by Paul McAuley (Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu)

Official Paul J. McAuley Website
Official Paul J. McAuley Blog
Order “The Quiet War
HERE (Hardcover) + HERE (Paperback)
Read Extracts

INTRODUCTION: For twenty years I have been reading sff by Paul McAuley, from his superb space opera debut “Four Hundred Billion Stars”, through The Confluence science fantasy trilogy and to more recent near-future sf thrillers like “Whole Wide World”. When I heard that Mr. McAuley was returning to widescreen space opera in the milieu of his Greater Brazil/”outer” war universe developed in various short stories and related to his early work, I was thrilled, immediately ordered “The Quiet War”, and pretty much read the book on arrival. And despite high expectations, the novel delivered, actually even surpassing them…

NOTE: You can read the first nine chapters from “The Quiet War” on Mr. McAuley's site which I strongly recommend if you are not familiar with his work.

SETTING: In the 2200's, a century after the big “Overturn”—an ecological and social catastrophe that left vast swaths of Earth as disaster areas—Earth is rebuilding under the control of three “Families” that rose with prominence with their “Green Saints”.

Religion in the world is mainly dominated by Gaia, although in Greater Brazil it is mixed with traditional Catholicism, secularism in the EU, and traditional Asian doctrines in the Asian Sphere.

After the destruction of the Mars colonies by the now defunct Democratic Republic of China a century ago, the “outer” humans moved to the Asteroid Belt—the moons of Jupiter and Saturn with smaller settlements at Uranus and even rumored ones farther out at Neptune and in the Kuiper Belt. The “outers” have a very vibrant civilization, living in thousands of small towns, habitats, and domes, divided into numerous polities that mostly practice direct polling democracy and subject themselves to various forms of genetic engineering. Only the conservatism of their elder generation—still tied emotionally to the Earth-based civilization—keeps the outer humans from evolving in potentially distinct strains of humanity. Unfortunately, many younger outers are eager to rid themselves of the influence of Earth and their elders, so they have congruous intent with their enemies—the war faction of Earth's Families that wants to subjugate their civilization…

The Quiet War” follows five characters from different walks of life and through their eyes we see the strangeness and diversity of the outer humans:

Dr. Sri Hong-Owen is the top geneticists on Earth—at least in her opinion—and a subordinate of the Greater Brazil powerful Peixoto Family, though as a personal favorite of the family's Green Saint, the elderly Oscar Finnegan Ramos, she is quite powerful on her own.

Macy Minnot had a tough life in the slums of Pittsburgh after running away from home. Getting a lucky break by coming to the attention of the Fontaine Family, Macy becomes a soil treatment specialist and crew leader. When she is chosen to represent her lords on an Earth-outer cooperative construction project on Callisto under the leadership of Earth's top engineer Emmanuel Vargo, she believes the job will make her career.

Loc Ifrahim is a Brazilian diplomat with secret instructions from his true masters.

Dave #8 is one of Sri's secret war projects—a batch of clones altered to look like outers and trained from birth in the arts of war, spying and sabotage—but Dave #8 nurses secret doubts about his humanity and the goals of his superiors.

And Cash is a special forces pilot surgically altered by Dr. Sri to pilot one of the new attack warships and is eager for war and teaching the “outer abominations” a lesson.

FORMAT/INFO:The Quiet War” stands at 439 pages divided into five named and numbered parts, each subdivided into small numbered chapters. The narrative is in the third-person, present tense, switching between five different POVs: Dr. Sri Hong-Owen, Macy Minnot, Dave #8, Cash and Loc Ifrahim. The ending is very good and brings together most of the threads in the novel, though it is clear that there is much left to be explored in further novels in the series, the next being “Gardens of the Sun”, expected out in late 2009 from

October 16, 2008 marks the Hardcover and Trade Paperback publication of “The Quiet War” via
Gollancz. Cover art provided by

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS:The Quiet War” is an ambitious novel which succeeds very well at integrating hard sf concepts and tropes—including hands-on habitat development, genetic engineering and vacuum fusion powered flight—with high stakes politics and superb world-building, such as describing Earth’s rebuilding in great physical and socio-political detail.

The two main characters in the novel—around which most of the action revolves—are the ambitious and brilliant Dr. Sri Hong-Owen and the practical, down-to-earth Macy Minnot, while the other three POVs add complexity and depth to the book’s intricate tapestry.

The vivid description of life on the moons of Saturn and the no-bounds ethos of the younger outer generation stands in marked contrast with the wastelands of Earth, its feudal stratification and the easily stirred mobs incited against “outer abominations”, so we have two very interesting axes of conflict—young and bold/reckless versus old and wise/stale as well as outer diversity and non-conformism against Earth's feudal stratification and required obedience & conformity.

A hard sf/space opera blockbuster on the scale of Peter F. Hamilton, “The Quiet War” represents a triumphal return for Mr. McAuley to the large scale sff of his early work and will rank as one of the best science fiction novels of the year…


Lou Anders said...

Happy to say that Pyr will be publishing the US edition in fall 09.

Liviu said...

Great news! I hope Pyr will publish the sequel Gardens of the Sun.

I am currently reading another superb sf novel that is scheduled only for UK now - Spirit by Gwyneth Jones, Gollancz, December 2008, review to come at some point, and I am amazed at the quality of novels published in the UK that somehow slipped the attention of US publishers until recently.

Jason (from England) said...

I am about half way through Quiet War ... and what a gem it is. Losing yourself in the amazing, BELIEVABLE, background material, such great, well thought out characters. And of course, the slow slide into WAR, showing the dark side of human (Earth) ambition, their innate need to join the two paths of Humanity (Earth/Moon humans and The Outers) no matter what the cost. A great read, good science fiction is a rare find these days. I cant wait to discover Paul McAuley's other literature.


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