Spin State – Chris Moriarty (2003)
‘From a stunning new voice in hard science fiction comes one of the most thrilling debut novels in years. Welcome to a post-human universe of emergent AIs, genetic constructs, and illegal wetware, where survival can be only a state of mind. Welcome to.
UN Peacekeeper Major Catherine Li has made thirty-seven faster-than-light jumps in her lifetime – and has probably forgotten more than most people remember. But that’s what backup hard drives are for. And Li should know; she’s been hacking her memory for fifteen years in order to pass as human.
But no memory upgrade can prepare Li for what she finds on Compson’s World: a mining colony she once called home and to which she is sent after a botched raid puts her on the bad side of the powers that be. A dead physicist who just happens to be her cloned twin. A missing dataset that could change the interstellar balance of power and turn a cold war hot. And a mining ‘accident’ that is starting to look more and more like murder…
Suddenly Li is chasing a killer in an alien world miles underground where everyone has a secret. And one wrong turn in streamspace, one misstep in the dark alleys of blackmarket tech and interstellar espionage, one risky hookup with an AI could literally blow her mind.’
Blurb from the October 2003 Bantam Spectra paperback edition.
Set in a society where emergent AIs are campaigning for legal rights; multi-planetary syndicates produce vat-grown designer humans and society is dependent on Bose-Einstein condensate. This is a substance which can be best described as quantum coal. It is the unobtainium available only on Compson’s World, and now a top scientist, seemingly close to discovering how to synthesise the condensate, is dead.
UN Peacekeeper Major Catherine Li is unwillingly posted back to Compson’s World to investigate the death; unwillingly because this is her home world from which she escaped after faking her genetic credentials. She is not a pure human and although all her old records were apparently destroyed, discovery of her true status could destroy her life and career. Her only ally seems to be Cohen, a powerful AI, but his true motives can only be guessed at, and when she begins to uncover a complex conspiracy it seems she can trust no one, not even Cohen.
This is a dark and beautifully written novel, dense with quantum physics yet still accessible to the average reader. Stylistically it is reminiscent of Richard Morgan or Neal Asher but perhaps richer, more textured in terms of characterisation and settings. It’s an impressive debut novel, but one feels that Moriarty might do well in future to move away from the Noir Nouveau mysteries which seem to be the spirit of the age.
Moriarty also includes a useful quantum physics bibliography for those readers who wish to broaden their minds further into the complex world of quantum states.