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The Quiet War
Paul McAuley
Pyr, 405 pages

The Quiet War
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: 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

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For quite a few years now (at least since 1997), Paul McAuley has been publishing stories set in the aftermath of the Quiet War, a war between Earth and the Outer Planets of the Solar System. Earth won the war, but McAuley's stories suggested that their victory would prove ambiguous. These stories have been largely first-rate, some of the best hard SF of recent years. With The Quiet War, McAuley has finally written the story of the war itself. (Though he's not quite done -- a sequel, Gardens of the Sun, has just appeared in the UK and is due in the US in 2010. I haven't seen it, so I don't know if it simply continues the stories of the characters from The Quiet War or if it incorporates some of his previous short fiction.)

The Quiet War follows several different characters. Dave #8 is a boy, a clone, being trained to be a spy for Earth. Cash Baker is a fighter pilot, again for Earth -- he has been selected to be one of a few pilots given augmentations to fly a very advanced spaceship. Sri Hong-Owen is a "gene wizard," perhaps the leading expert in genetic engineering in Earth's society. Macy Minnot is a reclamation worker, now heading to Callisto to help build an artificial biome as a cooperative project between Earth and the Outer Planets.

Those introductions are a scant look at the politics and history. The basic history turns on past atrocities -- apparently some off-Earth entity tried and failed to send an asteroid to destroy Earth, and China responded by successfully wiping out the human presence on Mars. So the much smaller populations around the Outer Planets are all that remains of off-Earth (and Luna) colonies. Earth itself has undergone an ecological catastrophe (mostly caused by global warming) and much of its energies are focussed on reclaiming a more natural ecology -- with the (perhaps ironic) help of a lot of advance genetic technology. Neither Earth nor the Outer Planets are politically unified. The leading powers on Earth include Greater Brazil and Europe. All the characters mentioned above are aligned with Greater Brazil, a society based on powerful families vying for power, with most of the population essentially indentured to one family or another. The main political divide on Earth is between those who desire political rapprochement with the Outer Planets, and those who want war. Sri Hong-Owen, a protege of the "green saint" Oscar Finnegan Ramos, is part of the rapprochement faction, and so is Macy Minnot, as signaled by her involvement with the biome project. Dave #8 and Cash Baker, on the other hand, are being directly prepared for war, and as such tend to support the war faction. It's clear early on that some (pretty evil) machinations are leading to the war faction winning out.

Most of the novel, then, is taken up with the run-up to war. Sri Hong-Owen is obsessed with meeting the great Avernus, the leading Outer Planet gene wizard, and she ends up heading to the Jupiter system in the hope of forcing a meeting -- but she is encumbered by obligations to her masters. Macy Minnot, meanwhile, gets in the way of saboteurs trying to destroy the Callisto biome project, and ends up forced to defect to the Outer Planets, only to find that she is still regarded with suspicion there. Dave #8 is eventually given a new identity and a job as a mole -- charged with destabilizing the infrastructure of one of the more rebellious Outer Planet colonies. And Cash of course is eventually part of the fleet sent to the Outer Planets, originally just making a show of force, but in the long term fighting.

I'm not really telling much of the actual action. Suffice it to say it's always interesting. There's a great deal of intrigue. Lots of bad guys, and the good guys are deeply flawed. (The worst bad guys are pretty much all bad, although to be fair their motivations are convincing enough.) There is also plenty of SFnal description -- both natural (that is, depictions of conditions on the moons of the Outer Planets) and technological -- a whole lot of cool stuff, genetic mods to people, animals, and planets, and cool machinery as well). The outcome of the war itself is inevitable, of course, but we still care.

It's interesting how it is a default SF mode that in any conflict between the colonists of the Outer Planets and the entrenched powers on Earth, the "good guys" are in the Outer Planets. Obviously for Americans there is considerable resonance with our own history. (In different ways this applies as well to Australians and Canadians.) But McAuley is English -- and still in The Quiet War the Outer Planets are mostly on the side of virtue. (With some ambiguity, to be sure, and certainly there are fools and villains on both sides of this conflict.) I suppose in part there is something about the Science Fiction field itself that predisposes readers and writers towards being in favor of going outward, of exploring and living in new environments.

This novel is one of the best SF novels of the past couple of years. It is fullthroatedly SFnal, distinctly "hard." As with many such novels, one fault it has is a tendency towards telling -- towards the infodump. But then the info being dumped is often quite fascinating! The characters are well depicted as well, though with perhaps a bit of a nod towards the cliché. Those minor nits aside, I really liked it. I will say that as I imply above, it's not exactly finished. The story will continue in Gardens of the Sun... to which I eagerly look forward.

Copyright © 2009 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.


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