Queen of Angels – Greg Bear (1991)
‘Los Angeles 2047, a city on the eve of the Binary Millennium. Public Defender Mary Choy faces her toughest assignment: to bring back Emanuel Goldsmith – acclaimed poet turned mass killer – from the heart of a Caribbean island about to explode in revolution.
But there are others interested in Goldsmith: the sinister Selectors, who use Hellcrowns to exact ultimate retribution; Goldsmith’s best friend, Richard Fettle, driven to literary inspiration and the edge of madness by the murders; and psychologist Martin Burke, who will journey into Goldsmith’s Country of the Mind to find the origins of human evil.
Far away, circling Alpha Centauri, a complex artificial Thinker pilots a scientific probe, intent on finding signs of life, coming to grips with a terrifying loneliness. On Earth, an even more powerful Thinker, nicknamed Jill, contemplates all with its extraordinary mind, waiting to be born.
In one week, crossing the boundaries of the Binary Millennium, they will face their greatest challenge, putting together the pieces of the greatest of all puzzles: the roots of the soul.’
Blurb from the 1991 Legend paperback edition
On the eve of the Binary Millennium, the poet Emmanuel Goldsmith invites several guests to his home and slaughters them all. At the same time a ship manned by a Thinker (an artificial intelligence on the verge of self-awareness) is approaching the planets of Alpha Centauri B; its mission, to seek out life etc.
back on Earth an identical Thinker called Jill is monitoring the remote Thinker’s transmissions while Jill’s creator is hoping that one of both of these AIs will take the next step and become self-aware.
Public Defender Mary Choy is assigned the task of tracking Goldsmith down, even if he has fled to the Republic of Hispaniola, in what used to be Africa, ruled by Colonel Sir John Yardley. This is the country from whence Hellcrowns come, the ruthless instruments of justice which force the convicted to relive their crimes, face their worst nightmares and far, far worse.
Mary does not realise that Goldsmith is still in the US, having been abducted by the father of one of Goldsmith’s victims.
The father has requested that Martin Burke, psychologist, whose hospital/lab was shut down due to withdrawal of grants, examine Goldsmith to determine his state of mind.
Burke’s ‘examinations’ however, involve entering the patient’s consciousness which can be a dangerous operation. As it happens, Goldsmith’s ‘Country of the Mind’ is a landscape of death and violence in which Burke seems trapped.
Goldsmith’s friend, Richard Fettle, previously an average writer, now finds the tragedy of his friend’s killing spree pushing him to new creative heights.
It’s a dense and clumsily structured novel, but one with which patience reaps large rewards. The various story strands hang together very well, and there are occasional reflections of theme ricocheting between them. Mary’s artistic friend, for instance, invites her to his latest exhibition which, to her horror, includes an illegal (albeit adapted) Hellcrown. Goldsmith, a poet, for seemingly no reason, turns to carnage. Mary Choy, on her fruitless visit to Hispaniola, finds a beautiful country whose people have an unfamiliar vitality of life and (for the most part) love their leader, Colonel Sir John Yardley, but they are also the creators of the Hellcrowns, which forms part of the justice system of the country.
It’s not an outstanding work, but it shows a different side of Bear, one which is perhaps striving to explore the human condition rather more than is evident in some of his other work.
‘Queen of Angels’ is, of course, set in the same universe as ‘Moving Mars’, in which Jill the Thinker also appears, although the novels are otherwise unconnected.