Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
Gardens of the Sun
Paul McAuley
Gollancz / Pyr, 441 /462 pages

Gardens of the Sun
Gardens of the Sun
Paul McAuley
Paul McAuley was born in England in 1955. He worked as a researcher in biology at various universities before going to St. Andrew's University as a lecturer in botany for 6 years. Some years ago, he decided to move on to become a full-time writer.

His first novel, Four Hundred Billion Stars, won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award and several subsequent novels have been nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, winning one for Fairyland which also won the 1997 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best SF Novel. His short story, "The Temptation of Dr. Stein," won the British Fantasy Award. Pasquale's Angel won the very first Sidewise Award for Alternate History (Long Form) in 1996. McAuley also produces a regular review column for Interzone and contributes reviews to Foundation.

Paul J. McAuley Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Quiet War
SF Site Review: The Quiet War
SF Site Review: The Quiet War
SF Site Review: Fairyland
SF Site Review: Cowboy Angels
SF Site Review: Mind's Eye
SF Site Review: White Devils
SF Site Review: Making History
SF Site Review: Fairyland
SF Site Reading List: Paul J. McAuley
SF Site Review: Whole Wide World
SF Site Review: The Secret of Life
SF Site Interview: Paul J. McAuley
SF Site Excerpt: The Secret of Life
SF Site Review: Shrine of Stars
SF Site Review: Pasquale's Angel
SF Site Review: Ancients of Days
SF Site Review: The Invisible Country
SF Site Review: Child Of The River
SF Site Review: Fairyland

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

Advertisement
A couple of months ago here I reviewed Paul McAuley's The Quiet War. Its sequel, Gardens of the Sun, is now available. Some have called the two books a single novel, split for publishing convenience (each book by itself is quite long), but the split works quite well. The first novel really is the story of the Quiet War, while the second tells of the ramifications of that war in the many years following. And, as we suspected even in the first novel, winning the Quiet War certainly didn't mean winning the peace. There is no doubt one should read both books, or that the first book really isn't complete without the second, but they still work as separate novels.

Gardens of the Sun follows the same viewpoint characters as The Quiet War. All of these are natives of Greater Brazil -- though in wildly different fashions. Greater Brazil, in this future, controls most or all of the Americas, and it is the leading force in the Three Powers Alliance, a union of convenience of the three major Earth powers in the war to subdue the Outer Planets. Earth politics is dominated by flavors of radical Greenness, a response to the near destruction of Earth due to climate change. The primary technological effort on Earth is to restore the planet to something like its pristine, prehuman, condition, but this is of course ambiguous, as a good deal of human technology, and genetic engineering, is required in this effort. Nonetheless, it's in many ways a very positive thing, but of course at times carried too far, or in a questionable direction. Moreover, the radical Green obsession with ecological purity puts them at nearly, sometimes literally, religious odds with the settlers of the Outer System, who are highly dependent on technology, and on significant alteration of the natural state of the moons they live on. They also are dependent on some alteration of the human genome, and factions are interested in much more radical changes to humanity. This issue is the primary one, ostensibly driving the war between Earth and the Outer Planets, but of course good old fashioned power politics also play a major role. Both books are interesting and convincing, to me, in laying out the political background to the war and to its aftermath.

The major characters, then, all begin as citizens of Greater Brazil. All end up, in very different ways and with differing levels of success, searching for redemption, and essentially opposing the interests of their homeland. So, the characters. Dave #8 is a cloned spy who in the first book fell in love with a woman of Paris, Dione, the city he was assigned to disrupt in the war effort. In this book, he uses his skills as a spy to look for the woman he loves, and eventually goes on a sort of quest to finally see Earth, at the same time working against the police state system of Greater Brazil. Macy Minnot is an ecological specialist who defected to the Outer Planets in the first book, after she discovered a sabotage plot that undermined a peace initiative prior to the war. In this book, she is happily married and part of a rump group of Outers who have fled Saturn for various points farther out -- we get to see Uranus, Neptune, Pluto and other exotic locations in following her, while she ends up a reluctant diplomat in an effort to negotiate an end to the TPA occupation. Macy's long term enemy is Loc Ifrahim, a slimy opportunist in the Greater Brazil diplomatic service, who, as he keeps looking out for number one, finds himself subtly maneuvered (by fate as much as anything) into a situation where his interests oppose those of his country, and where he is unexpectedly (to him, certainly), a tragic lover and something of a hero. Cash Baker is a singleship pilot from Texas, injured in the Quiet War. Unable to fly anymore, he spends some time as a tame war hero, before realizing the cynical motivations of his masters, and he drifts back home where he encounters, and eventually joins, the local resistance effort. And finally the creepy gene wizard Sri Hong-Owen, obsessed with meeting the Outer Planets' master gene wizard Avernus, ends up losing the affection of her two quite different sons and pursuing her ever stranger obsessions in seclusion on a moon of Saturn.

As I hope the above character sketches hint, the action here is fairly complex and convoluted. However there is an overarching plot that is, in reality, fairly simple. It concerns what is presented as the eventually inevitable collapse of Greater Brazilian politics, as that nation proves unable to adapt to the reality of Outer Planet conditions, nor to its own internal stresses. A combination of the above, and of their rivalry with the other Earth powers, leads to a reversal of sorts of the state of play at the end of the first novel. And then a slingshot to the real theme of the books -- the future.

This is in a way a very traditional SF tale, concerned in a fairly comprehensive way with a fairly standard SFnal future: one in which we control our ecological damage to the home planet, colonize the rest of the Solar System, and take steps to the stars. At the same time humanity must change, and in a wide variety of differing ways. Ultimately it's an optimistic book, a sort of reaffirmation of the purest of SF's dreams, while certainly it acknowledges at least some of the difficulty of realizing those dreams, and the general cussedness of humans when faced with progress.

I'd like to briefly address the relationship of these books to McAuley's previous Quiet War stories. A note at the end of Gardens of the Sun says "Parts of this novel are based on heavily modified characters and situations" of such stories as "The Gardens of Saturn" (1998), "The Assassination of Faustino Malarte" (2002), "The Passenger" (2002), and "Dead Man Walking" (2006). That is true, and indeed we meet such characters as Cash Baker, Vera Jackson, Sri Hong-Owen and her two sons, Avernus, and Faustino Malarte in those stories. And we meet other characters under different names. And we see some similar events. But looking at the original stories (and the several other Quiet War stories McAuley has published, such as "Second Skin" (1997), "Sea Change, with Monsters" (1998), and "Making History" (2000)), we see an excellent example of the differences between the short form and the long form, and of the evolution of a general idea for a future over time. The stories are excellent work, and all worth reading on their own. I hope McAuley can collect them separately sometime. And they don't spoil the novels, nor are they spoiled by them. Different things happen. The characters come to different fates. The "future history" works out in different ways. Technology changes. The stories are perhaps viewable as "beta versions" of the eventual future of the novel, but that's unfair. They are successes in their own right. What McAuley has done here is quite similar to what we saw Kim Stanley Robinson do with his Martian novels and with the stories collected in The Martians.

I enthusiastically recommend this diptych. I enjoyed both novels immensely, and I think they are among the best hard SF novels of recent years. One of the ways to enjoy SF is to see the continual reimagination of certain consensus futures by different writers, and as our "real" history (and technology) continue to change. The Quiet War and Gardens of the Sun are an excellent, fascinating, moving, and thought-provoking reimagination of one of my favorite futures: in short, the colonization of the Solar System.

Copyright © 2010 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.


SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to editor@sfsite.com.
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide