Tuesday, March 15, 2011

New machine jihad

"You'll have nothing to rule."

"The New Machine Jihad does not need to rule. It needs only itself."

A thwarted kidnapping, a Japanese businessman who apparently runs his affairs yakuza-style, a Russian organitskaya boss. So far, so thriller.

Equations of Life, by Simon Morden, is set in the 2020s, some time post Armageddon. We don't know much about what happened. Nuclear strikes? Japan sank into the sea. There's a Cold War reference, which may or may not have anything to do with Armageddon times. So, vaguely futuristic, but still more thriller than sci-fi.

In fact, for the first half of the novel, there's very little of anything hinting of sci-fi going on. It's suggested when we learn Petrovitch is working on this little quantum gravity thing, and again when Oshicora-san reveals his pet project: VirtualJapan.

Our protagonist, Samuil Petrovitch, is 22 and has serious heart trouble. For a few pages I suspected this book might head in the direction of organ development and/or trade, organic or otherwise.

But no. Just the faintest whiff of science.

The cop on the case is old-school — rough around the edges, but effective when it suits his purposes to be. Then there's the amazonian nun who keeps turning up to save Petrovitch's ass.

The cast and their context, while not as fully realized as I felt they could be, were certainly compelling enough to draw me forward. It seems, however, that some of the history was previously developed in Morden's short stories, so when I say I feel like I was dropped in the middle of something, it's because I kind of am. This novel does stand up entirely on its own, though.

There's an awful lot going on here, and I had to flip back on a few occasions to keep things straight (but I'm not the most practiced at reading — or watching, for that matter — "action"; characters and events start to blur for me if the pace is too frenetic and the language is combat).

Also, I did roll my eyes a couple times in the early stages, when, for example, (I think it was) the ventilator fans "were ancient with age." As the story progressed, however, such linguistic rough spots pretty much vanished.

As far as I'm concerned, things start to get sci-fi at about halfway, when the new machine jihad begins to assert itself. And that's very cool. And then it gets really sci-fi in the final pages. And that's totally cool. And now I'm dying to read the next book in the Petrovitch trilogy (the books are being released the end of March, April, and May, respectively).

I can't stress how unsettling it was to be finishing up this novel last Friday, after having heard the news of the disaster in Japan. This is a novel in which Japan had sunk into the sea(!); the world is reeling from nuclear fallout, and London is overflowing with immigrant ghettoes. So. Yeah. Unsettling. Still. The whole VirtualJapan idea was really cool, and it's almost reassuring to believe that should any parts of our world be lost, they could be revirtualized.

This is a novel where actions speak louder than words, and that's fun, but I liked those bits best that slowed down and considered themselves.

"Is this what it's like, then?" she said, eyes closed, dreaming. "People like us, we think differently, don't we? We are different. We do all the things that others do. We go out to parties and concerts, we go to conferences and drink and talk, we play music and games and we laugh and cry. But when it comes down to it, we don't actually need anyone else. We're happy doing what we do and having obligations interferes with that. Does that make us selfish, or something else?"

"I don't know. To them, I guess it is selfish. Me? I just have such a monstrous sense of self, I don't need to feel love. I don't even feel lonely." He watched Pif's hair beads swinging slightly in time with her breathing. "Sometimes I wonder what it might be like. To be with someone, well, who isn't me. And sometimes I think we don't even need ourselves. What's most important is to find out whether we're right or not."

1 comment:

Suzanne said...

I see you're reading Caspian Rain, which I started last year and didn't finish.

Look forward to hearing what you think.