The Quiet War - Paul J. McAuley Paul McAuley’s The Quiet War was the second course in my “Presidents’ Day Brain Candy” Weekend (see my review of The Caryatids: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3398430), and I wound up liking it more than The Caryatids. That despite the fact that it suffered from a very slow beginning – I almost gave up but the action picked up after section one and the info-dumping largely ceased. The info-dumping was the second factor that almost made me stop reading. One of the main characters, Macy Minnot, is a soil chemist/geologist. I understand that McAuley might wish to establish her bona fides by describing her work – to an extent – but I learned far more about soil chemistry than I really wanted to and for no reason. The story never, for a moment, depends upon Macy’s knowledge of proper phosphate levels.

Other moments of info-dumping are mercifully brief and usually relevant at some point later on. Though I still could have wished McAuley was able to incorporate them more smoothly (and invisibly).

The set-up: It’s 2210 and Earth has been devastated both by climate change and the ensuing political, economic and social chaos that followed. In the wake of the Overturn (a never-fully-explained catastrophe in the 21st century), a new, increasingly fanatic religion has emerged that places a premium on restoring the planet to its pre-climate-change state (some want to restore it to its pre-human state). The most powerful state of this new Earth is Greater Brazil, which is an oligarchy – almost a feudal state – dominated by a small group of “families.” During the Overturn, a group of humans escaped from Earth orbit and established colonies on Mars and among the moons of Jupiter and Saturn – the Outers. They’ve developed a radically democratic, noncentralized society that freely alters the human genome, adapting to the nonterrestrial environments they find themselves in. In the eyes of Earth, they’re tampering with the natural, God-given order of things. Worse, the Outers offer an alternative to the authoritarian, stratified terrestrial society outside of Earth's control. A century before the novel’s opening, a war between Earth and the Outers results in the obliteration of the Martian colony and a large residue of ill feeling and misunderstanding between humanity’s two branches.

The novel concerns itself with the beginnings of a second war between Earth and the Outers. The two chief protagonists are Sri Hong-Owen, Earth’s premier geneticist, though her work is more and more restricted by the growing fanaticism of the government, and Macy Minnot, reluctant refugee from Earth and the aforementioned soil chemist. There are a few other characters who play prominent, though lesser, roles – especially Dave #8/Ken Shintaro, a genetically enhanced Earth soldier/spy – but it’s Sri’s and Macy’s stories that take up the bulk of the plot.

Annoyingly, McAuley treads dangerously close to deus-ex-machina territory in the character of the Outers’ super-genius geneticist Avernus but I hadn’t invested too much interest in the story so it didn’t bother me all that much. The character’s actions don’t alter the plot too much, and they don’t determine any plot points.

As with Sterling’s book, no character peaked my interest, though I did become interested in the societies McAuley was creating. He left enough loose ends in this book so that he can further develop them. Of great interest to me was a theme only touched upon, and that late in the book, of how to reconcile two “noble” causes – reclaiming Earth and adapting to life off-planet – that pits two strands of humanity against each other, and factoring in common humanity’s mob-like idiocy. If McAuley continues to explore that kind of issue, future volumes set in this universe would be worth my time.

Not a bad book. I can’t quite give it 3 stars considering some of the other stuff I’ve been reading lately (see my reviews of Lolly Willowes and Mr. Fortune’s Maggot) but a decent read overall.