My life in outer space

Archive for July, 2014

Birds – Sheila Finch (2004)


Bear Neilsen is only a child when she witnesses her astronaut sister, just returned from a mission to a satellite, being put into a Faraday cage before convulsing and dying. Her sister, it appears, encountered something and may have brought some of it back.
Ten years later, someone is killing off all witnesses to the incident. Bear, who is having trouble in her living accommodation because she has adopted a homeless malamute dog, gets a call to tell her that there is better accommodation on offer. The caller is the Divine Cleopatra, a drag queen who works at the Serengeti restaurant, owned and run by Alex, an old friend of Bear’s sister. Meanwhile, something is glitching satellites around the world and a millennial Jesus the Astronaut cult is growing in strength.
It becomes clear that someone is keen to silence anyone involved with the original project and Bear that she herself must go into space to deal with whatever it is.
It’s a short read which combines first contact, native American mysticism, cross dressing, satellites and a quick visit to the Thames barrier in London.
It’s a workmanlike novel, but nothing out of the ordinary. Sheila Finch wrote an outstanding short story (‘Out of the Mouths’ F&SF 1996) based around one her specialities, linguistics. I cannot see that the magic has transferred to the longer form here, but I have every faith that she will get there.


Polystom – Adam Roberts (2003)


‘Amongst all his Uncle Cleonicles’ notions, his explanation for the stars has always seemed just too fanciful to be true to Polystom, fiftieth steward of Enting.

Yes, his uncle invented the Computational Device, the Greatest Work of Man, the Summation of Human Knowledge, but surely everyone accepts that the air between the planets is without end. how could there be nothing beyond something? Where would air end and nothing begin?

This is but one certainty in a universe of certainties for the fiftieth Steward of Enting. Polystom is certain his new wife will love him. Certain that his servants respect him. Certain that war will bring him the glory he has been looking for.

the death of his uncle is only one of the first shocks to his comfortable view of life…

Adam Roberts has, in a marvellous feat of the imagination, created a vivid unique universe. One in which autocrats cruise between the planets in biplanes, in which Skywhals make mysterious distant orbits, in which a fruitless war has dragged on for years.

For it to be any other way is, of course, completely impossible….’

Blurb from the 2003 Gollancz paperback edition

Roberts made his name with the excellent ‘Salt’ and has gone on to produce several monosyllabically titled novels. here, breaking into fresh three-syllable territory, he gives us ‘Polystom’, Polystom being the central character, the Steward of Enting, one of a number of worlds orbiting only a few thousand miles out from a small sun in a system in which the atmosphere stretches between the planets, populated by Skywhals and air plankton, and allows Polystom (or anyone else for that matter) to fly a plane from one world to another.
This society is a quaint feudal one, the classes divided strictly between masters and servants. The story, brought to us through Polystom’s eyes, is sometimes shocking in the attitude of those of Polystom’s level to their servants.
Polystom’s uncle Cleonicles, we learn, had a brief affair with a male servant, whom he ordered to dominate and sodomise him over a period of months.
Finally tiring of this sexual pleasure and feeling a little ashamed, he sends the servant away to the ongoing war on the planet Aelop and almost certain death.
The shame was not one of homosexuality, but of the servant dominating the master. Same-sex relationships are not unusual in this universe as Polystom’s father had a long-term relationship with another man himself.
Death is a constant presence in the novel. We know that Polystom’s father had not long died at the start of the novel. Polystom then marries the wilful and enigmatic Beeswing who tries to escape the marriage by running away. With Polystom in pursuit she trips and falls, is recaptured by her husband and, during the argument, falls again and dies.
Polystom’s uncle is then murdered by anonymous men, thought to be escaped from the war on Aelop. It may have been the old man’s spurned servant seeking revenge, or agents of the military, after the old scientist’s secrets. Roberts leaves it to the reader to determine.
Polystom then raises a platoon of his own servants and joins the war, a crazy affair conducted in the hot reeking mud of Aelop.
It is only here, near the end of this strange but beautiful novel that any connection between our world and Polystom’s is mentioned. Is our world a simulation running in a vast computer on Polystom’s world of Aelop? Or is Polystom’s universe merely a simulation created by Earth scientists on their own ‘Computational Devices’? Is the violence and chaos of Earth leaking through into Polystom’s peaceful universe and inciting revolution and bloodshed?
The ideas are Eganesque and also hark back to earlier conceptual breakthrough novels like ‘Non Stop’ and Daniel F Galouye’s ‘Dark Universe’
However, the denouement i.e. the revelation at the end seemed a little too much like a gimmick introduced simply to connect Polystom’s world with our own.

Pattern Recognition – William Gibson (2003)

Pattern Recognition (Blue Ant, #1)

‘We have no future because our present is too volatile. We have only risk management. the spinning of the given moment’s scenarios. Pattern recognition…

Cayce Pollard is a new kind of prophet – a world-renowned ‘coolhunter’ who predicts the hottest trends. While in London to evaluate the redesign of a famous corporate logo, she’s offered a different assignment: find the creator of the obscure, enigmatic video clips being uploaded to the Internet – footage that is generating massive underground buzz worldwide.

Still haunted by the memory of her missing father – a Cold War security guru who disappeared in downtown Manhattan on the morning of Septemeber 11, 2001 – Cayce is soon traveling through parallel universes of marketing, globalization, and terror, heading always for the still point where the three converge. From London to Tokyo to Moscow, she follows the implications of a secret as disturbing – and compelling – as the twenty-first century promises to be….’

Blurb from the Berkley 2005 paperback edition

Cayce Pollard is media ‘cool-hunter’, a freelancer employed to spot trends before they become fashionable, and to consult on trade-marks and brand logos. Cayce owes her odd talent for spotting the next big fashion to her allergy/phobia of Labels. Her clothing is generic, any corporate labelling assiduously removed.
Whilst on an assignment in London to give her opinion on a re-branding of a trainers corporate logo, she is offered a further assignment; to track down the creator of the mysterious segments of film uploaded to the internet. These are short clips, enigmatic, yet strangely appealing, and which have drawn the attention of many people around the world, including Cayce herself.
This is probably one of the first novels to feature 9-11 directly, since another mystery in Cayce’s life is the disappearance of her father, an ex CIA agent, in New York on the day of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers. Cayce herself witnessed the attack and aftermath, an event which Gibson handles sensitively and respectfully without proselytising.
It is interesting to view the world through Gibson’s eyes. His description of Notting Hill and streets which I know well makes them at once recognisable, familiar and yet alien. Portobello Market, though accurately described, becomes in Gibson’s world a somewhat sinister area where vendors sell antique clockwork calculators shaped like hand grenades (Curtas, they are called, and can in fact be found on e-bay) and early surgical implements of dubious purpose.
It’s a novel constructed around hidden agendas, since most of the characters seem to have at least one, which makes for a fast-paced adventure in which, it seems, one cannot completely trust anyone.
Cayce’s search takes her to Tokyo and finally to Russia, and strange society of post-communism and the beginnings of prosperity for some. One of the characters mentions that, ironically, ‘Lenin lied to us about Communism, but told the truth about Capitalism’.
Gibson has always had an eye for detail and a way with metaphor. He also, in this novel at least, displays a mordant wit, as in a discussion amongst dealers where one had put in a bid on an internet auction for ‘Stephen King’s Wang’ which turned out to be one of the author’s old computers.
Overall, it’s a clever, glittering view of a world controlled by media barons whose business circles merge and blend with those of terrorists and organised crime bosses. Perhaps there was never a time when this was not true.
This is a long way from ‘Neuromancer’. This is a matured, confident Gibson whose haunting prose and imagery have evolved spectacularly in the intervening years. Now, he portrays what is almost our present day with a style and panache which reinvents our scenery, our working landscapes and our view of the world we live in.

The Speed of Dark – Elizabeth Moon (2002)

The Speed of Dark

‘Lou is different to normal people. He interacts with the world in a way they do not understand. He might not see the things they see, but he also sees many things they do not. Lou is autistic.

One of his skills is an ability to find patterns in data: extraordinary, complex, beautiful patterns that not even the most powerful computers can comprehend. The company he works for has made considerable sums of money from Lou’s work. But now they want Lou to change – to become ‘normal’ like themselves. And he must face the greatest challenge of his life. To understand the speed of dark.’

Blurb from the 2004 Orbit paperback edition.

A brave and moving novel, reminiscent of the recent ‘Curious Case of The Dog in The Night Time’. This is almost exclusively related by Lou Arrendale, an autistic adult in a near-future America. His world view is both funny and tragic, but treated with complete respect and empathy by Moon.
Thanks to advances in medicine and educational techniques, Lou and his fellow autistics have learned to live a reasonably normal life. Since the time he was born. subsequent autistic pregnancies have been spotted and the faulty DNA repaired, making Lou’s generation the last of the autistics.
A large pharmaceutical company employs Lou and his friends working in pattern analysis projects, since that is his special talent. For instance, using pattern analysis he has learned the art of fencing, and in a short time can analyse opponents’ patterns of play and therefore anticipate their moves and win.
Now, the head of department is attempting to bully the autistics into an experimental treatment programme which could rewire their brains and transform them into ‘normal’ members of society.
Although only borderline SF, this is a marvellous, moving and respectful novel, exposing society’s attitude to autism, and providing a rare, entertaining and well-observed glimpse into a world many people (though they may choose not to admit it) would rather avoid.

See also Alastair Reynolds’‘Redemption Ark’ and Daniel Keyes’ ‘Flowers For Algernon’

Dark Light – Ken MacLeod (2001)

Dark Light (Engines Of Light, #2)

‘The Second Sphere was founded by gods and populated with a host of kidnapped alien races. For Matt Cairns and the cosmonauts of the Bright Star it is their new home, but their unexpected arrival may trigger disaster. For, hidden among the stars, the gods still watch over their creation… and they do not tolerate dissent.’

Blurb from the 2002 Orbit paperback edition

Macleod’s rather disjointed sequel to ‘Cosmonaut Keep’ suffers mainly from having no clear structure and rambles a little through a narrative which introduces new characters at the expense of exploring the ones introduced in the first book.
Gregory and Elizabeth, for instance, have little to do in this book and are pushed to the sidelines.
The Bright Star has now arrived on the planet Croatan, much to the consternation of the Saurs (who feel that the humans are blaspheming against the Gods by piloting their own ships and should remember their proper place in the scheme of things) and the local Port Authority.
Their arrival precipitates a sea-change within Croatan society, not helped by Volkov (Matt’s immortal shipmate from the original crew of the Bright Star who flew to Mingulay) and his preaching of communist dogma which spreads like a virus through the disaffected of the world.
When the Bright Star crew let it be known that they wish to explore the system (in reality, to talk to the ‘gods’ of the local Oort cloud) the ship is impounded.
Eventually, Matt and Volkov manage to communicate with a ‘god’ who lets them into a dark secret regarding their society.
Macleod’s world-building is sound, and the historical basis of the relationship between the residents of Rawliston and the ‘Heathens’ has the cold ring of truth about it.
It is also refreshing to see gay and lesbian characters used unpatronisingly without their sexual orientation being turned into a shock or major plot device.
What is interesting, in the wake of 9/11 is the Heathens’ use of ‘low-tech technology’ in their attack on Rawliston, thus befuddling their technologically-minded superiors. The attack in the main consists of hot-air-balloons and hang-glider bombers, and though the Heathens suffer some casualties they strike a decisive blow against Rawliston, or at least its most right-wing and belligerent element.
The denouement is a little rushed, the political nuances being a tad too complicated and burdening a novel which was already struggling with two or three different narratives.

New York Nights – Eric Brown (2000)

New York Nights (Virex Trilogy, #1)

‘2040. New York is crowded with the lost. Refugees from the radioactive eastern seaboard, the splintered remains of a society in freefall, walk the streets and spend their last dollars on an hour snatched in one of the new Virtual Reality paradises.

In a society bent on escape, Missing Persons is a good business to be in. If nothing else it keeps Hal Halliday busy enough to avoid his past.

But the past is not so easy to escape.

NEW YORK NIGHTS is a fast moving yet thought-provoking SF thriller. It examines the human costs of isolation and escapism in a future that offers wild possibilities.’

Blurb from the 2001 Gollancz paperback edition

This, the first novel in the Virex trilogy introduces Hal Halliday – an affable New York ex-cop turned private eye of the mid Twenty-First Century – and his older partner Barney.
The duo run a semi-successful business chasing missing persons and assisting the local PD with cold cases.
Hal is intrigues by the case of Sissy Nigeria, reported missing by her lesbian lover. It’s a seemingly simple case but one which becomes more complex when Hal is attacked by a shape-shifter in the missing woman’s flat.
Sissy’s home computer system has been burnt out and Hal later discovers that her research work for Cybertech involved the creation of machine intelligence.
Despite a lack of complexity and some coincidences which stretch credulity, Brown has created a compelling an highly readable novel which races along like a cyborg greyhound.
The most intriguing aspect is perhaps Brown’s depiction of a Lesbian Separatist community of which his estranged sister is a member. He manages to avoid cliched stereotypes without being preciously politically correct, and sets the stage for the next two books in the series. Indeed the whole novel has the feel of the TV pilot which sets up the relationships between the major characters and sets them in context before moving on to the meat and potatoes of the narrative.
Brown doesn’t go far enough to explore the potentialities of VR, although there are some truly innovative moments, such as the interactive holosoap. One can log in to a virtual city, adopt a character and literally become one of the three million stories in the Naked City, which run perpetually.
‘New York Nights’ is that rare thing in SF of the period, a novel which is too short. One expects the detective to be wrong-footed by red herrings and following various nebulous leads. This is what detectives do. If one compares this to Morgan’s ‘Altered Carbon’ – a novel of similar style but superior quality – one immediately notes the differences. Morgan’s novel is full of character and location detail, layered over a zig-zagging plotline. Brown lacks the detail and therefore this novel, although workmanlike, lacks atmosphere.

Foundation’s Triumph – David Brin (1999)

Foundation's Triumph (Second Foundation Trilogy, #3)

‘As for me, I am finished.’

With these words, a frail, dying Hari Seldon completes his life’s work. The old man has just recorded messages for the Time Vault of the First Foundation. And psychohistory’s Seldon Plan is unleashed, propelled by the ponderous momentum of destiny.
Younger hands will now take up the task.

But Seldon knows that neither the First nor the Second Foundation will provide ultimate solutions. The Seldon Plan has three possible outcomes. None of them fills him with joy but he is consoled by the thought that any of the three is better than the chaos that would have happened without him.

However, the future still holds some surprises for Hari Seldon.

Blurb from the 2000 Orbit paperback edition.

An exceedingly suitable and satisfactory denouement to this posthumous sequel to Asimov’s Foundation series. Following a rather disjointed opening Benford’s ‘Fear’ and a sublime sequel in Bear’s ‘Chaos’, David Brin wraps it all up very neatly with a highly readable tale of Hari Seldon’s final adventure.
The three authors have very cleverly managed to weave a complete new story over and around the original Foundation trilogy with a complexity that borders on X-Files level conspiracy. In some ways it is a little disappointing to discover that Hari Seldon’s predictions – such as the secession from the Empire by Anacreon which left Terminus alone and undefended – were to a large extent ‘helped along’ by interfering robots and telepaths. (Those pesky interfering robots!).

There was a kind of precise beauty in the way Seldon’s mathematics predicted the outcome of each crisis and to some extent these late revelations (not really helped by Asimov’s own additions to his Milieu) lessen the power of the original trilogy. However, these novels are a great tribute to a Golden Age of SF and all three manage to evoke the spirit of a bygone period in SF history while infusing a contemporary flavour.
In Brin’s finale, the robots once more are heavily involved in meddling behind the scenes in human affairs and Dors Venabili (a robot designed as a guardian and companion to Seldon) discovers that it is not only human history that has been repressed for the last twenty thousand years.
Dors is bequeathed the head of R Giskard Reventlov, a robot visionary and allegedly the creator of the Zeroth Law of Robotics which negates the famed Three Laws of Robotics in the case of a robot having to protect the long-term security of the Human Race as a whole.

The series as a whole has wasted an opportunity to create an objective view of human nature, to examine what it is to be human in terms of Seldon’s mathematical waves of human progress. We know far more now than Asimov did in the Nineteen Forties of body language, human interaction, the psychology of crowds etc. Seldon’s aim in this final book is to refine his equations by finding reasons why Chaos worlds (planets which undergo a sudden and inventive renaissance) should subsequently fall into pandemonium and madness.
It is disappointing to discover that that the Chaos worlds are suffering the effects of a Chaos plague, an ancient designer disease akin to that of Brain fever, another manufactured plague designed to attack the most intelligent children and prevent a rise in the IQ level of the general public.
We also discover that many planets are being kept docile by robot telepathic machines left in orbit about these worlds. One can see now how Asimov muddied the waters of his premise by attempting to conflate his various work into one great galactic history. We can no longer watch the intricate interplay of unstoppable forces of change because the basic concept has been undermined by the intrusion of these robotic and other influences.
It’s a daunting task (and one does have to question why it was ever done at all) to produce a posthumous trilogy with three different authors engaged on the project, and to be constrained not only by Asimov’s original trilogy, but by his later additions and qualifications.
One can see why the writers thought that the only way they could do it was by treating the original trilogy as the exoteric (i.e. the public) version of events and this set of novels as the esoteric machinations (quite literally) of the robots behind the scenes of the events of the classic original series.
Yes, it works, and it is, as I have said, a decent tribute to Asimov who, despite later rather negative reassessments of his work, was a major influence on and supporter of, SF as a whole.
One could argue however, that had Asimov left his original trilogy alone it would shine much brighter than it does with the baggage of a welter of sequels and additions.
It looks as though there will be further additions since Brin has left ‘openings’ for other writers who wish to take up the baton. Hari Seldon has apparently been cloned and possibly rejuvenated by one of the robot factions; the robots Dors Venabili and Lodovic Trema have ‘evolved ‘ human reactions and emotions and find themselves drawn to each other, and there is Mors Planch, the rebel starship Captain who has been catapulted five hundred years into the future to a time when a decision must be made on Galactic coalescence into a single consciousness and the ensuing Human Transcendence.
A valuable appendix to the book is the very helpful timeline of Asimov’s future history which not only marks important dates and events in the Foundation galaxy’s chronology, but annotates the relevant books and stories in which these events either occur or are ‘re-examined’ for want of a better word.

Foundation and Chaos – Greg Bear (1998)

Foundation and Chaos (Second Foundation Trilogy, #2)

‘In ‘Foundation and Chaos’, one of science fiction’s greatest storytellers takes one of its greatest stories into new and fascinating territory. Isaac Asimov’s classic Foundation series is back.

Hari Seldon, approaching the end of his life, is on trial for daring to predict the Empire’s fall. At the same time, final preparations are under way for the long-anticipated migration to Star’s End. But R Daneel Olivaw, the brilliant robot entrusted with this great mission, has discovered a potential enemy.
At a critical moment in the Empire’s fall and the Foundation’s rise, Hari Seldon is about to face the greatest challenge of his life.

Blurb to the 2001 Orbit Paperback Edition

The novel runs concurrently with Part I of Asimov’s original novel, cleverly using Hari Seldon’s trial – originally seen from the viewpoint of Gaal Dornick – as a central focus to examine events behind the scenes of which Gaal Dornick was unaware.
The trial dialogue is identical, but Asimov’s rather dry ‘transcript’ version has been dramatised – if one may use that word in this context – brilliantly and, if anything, creates a tension and suspense where in Asimov’s version of events there is merely his cosy sense of certainty and destiny. The reader was never in any doubt that the Seldon plan would succeed. It was just a matter of trying to work out how.
Behind the scenes, Hari’s grand-daughter, Wanda, is gathering ‘mentalics’ – human mutants capable of manipulating the thoughts of others – as the core of Seldon’s ‘Second’ Foundation.
Bear’s Foundation universe is a darker and more complex place than Benford’s, and it is to his credit that he manages to capture some of Asimov’s atmosphere whilst fully updating it for a contemporary readership.
Here, the robots take centre-stage and their millennia-spanning plans and behind-the scenes manipulations are put into a different perspective.
Lodovic Trema, an ancient robot and long-time associate of Daneel R Olivaw’s plans for humanity, has been altered by Voltaire (an AI personality first encountered in Foundation’s Fear). He no longer is bound by Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics which forbid him to harm humans, and undergoes a form of robotic exegesis, coming to believe that Daneel’s protective stance of humanity as a whole is a restrictive suffocating policy.
The robots’ disparate philosophies and organisations are described using religious terminology with Humanity in the position of God/Creator. Originally united, the robot population was divided and subdivided by schisms, with some becoming Calvinist (after Susan Calvin from Asimov’s original ‘Robot’ series) and others becoming Giskardists following the philosophy of the robot R Giskard Reventlov. To add support to the religious connection there is a conversation between Daneel and the sim personality construct of Joan of Arc in which it is implied that Daneel’s God is Humanity, which in a sense is true if one applies the human religious hierarchical framework to Robots. Humans are the creators. They breathed life into the robots in a far more evidential way manner than God breathed life into Adam.
Oddly enough, the robot featured in Asimov’s ‘I, Robot’ or at least in the twilight Zone adaptation, was indeed called ‘Adam’, thus endowing the whole of this robotic narrative thread with a kind of theological thematic consistency. This means that the evolved humans now having abandoned their Gods, it is time for the Robots to do the same.
Were this not a posthumous sequel with a solid body of work stretching back – with various degrees of quality – to the Nineteen Forties, the concept of a robot in the late Nineties novel would only work in some ironic post-modern sense, as it does in ‘Roderick’.
The concept of a Galactic Empire is also one which modern writers approach at their peril, but here, given its cosy familiarity from the Asimov legacy seems – along with the robots – not out of place.
Bear, following on from Benford, fleshes out the power-structures and goes a long way toward making the Empire, and the complex power struggles which pervade it, a plausible entity. It’s fascinating to see how Bear, noted for novels of solid scientific speculation and Big Ideas, copes with what is essentially Space Opera, but cope he does, and extraordinarily well.
One of the best scenes involves two of the robots travelling to the secret robot base at Eos, a small blue moon of a green gas giant, orbiting a double star. There, an ancient robot with four arms, three legs and seven vertical sensor strips on its face ‘two of which glowed blue at any given time’ performs necessary maintenance on those robots who come in for their MOTs.
It’s a poignant and evocative section, laced with a Golden Age sense of wonder.

The Neutronium Alchemist (Night’s Dawn #02) – Peter F Hamilton (1997)

The Neutronium Alchemist (Night's Dawn, #2)


The ancient menace has finally escaped from Lalonde, shattering the Confederation’s peaceful existence. Those who succumbed to it have acquired godlike powers, but now follow a far from divine gospel as they advance inexorably from world to world.

On planets and asteroids, individuals battle for survival against the strange and brutal forces unleashed upon the Universe. Governments teeter on the brink of anarchy, the Confederation Navy is dangerously over-stretched, and a dark messiah prepares to invoke his own version of the final Night.

In such desperate times the last thing the galaxy needs is a new and terrifyingly powerful weapon. Yet Dr Alkad Mzu is determined to retrieve the Alchemist – so she can complete her thirty-year old vendetta to slay a star. Which means Joshua Calvert has to find Dr Mzu and bring her back before the Alchemist can be reactivated.

But he’s not alone in the chase, and there are people on both sides who have their own ides about how to use the ultimate doomsday device.’

Blurb from the 1998 Pan paperback edition.

One can only stand in complete awe of Hamilton, who manages to juggle several storyline threads, encompassing dozens of characters, planets, habitats, sentient ships and aliens, during which (presumably just because he can) he throws in the resurrected souls of Al Capone and Fletcher Christian
And so Hamilton’s Magnum Opus moves into its second volume.
The possessed are moving out into the galaxy and becoming organised. Al Capone has teamed up with the Mood Fantasy artist Jezibella (who seems to be the Madonna of five hundred years hence; a shrewd performer and business strategist and who turns out to be the ideal mate for the resurrected gangster).
Louise Kavanagh escapes from the possessed-occupied planet of Norfolk with a resurrected Fletcher Christian.
Meanwhile, the elderly Dr Alkad Mzu arranges a daring escape from her enforced exile in the habitat Tranquility.
Mzu is one of the few survivors of a planetary genocide and the creator of the almost mythical Alchemist, a device capable of converting a stable sun into a supernova.
Her plan is to reclaim the device and seek revenge on those who destroyed her planet and people.
The possessed, however, having learned of her escape, wish to capture her in order to gain control of the device. It is up to Captain Joshua Calvert to recapture Mzu before the possessed claim her.
We also learn a little more about the enigmatic Elder Race, the Kiint, and follow the insane Quinn Dexter as he slowly but surely makes his way back toward Earth and his revenge on Banneth, the woman who had him deported.
Hamilton entwines all these threads (and more) so effortlessly and entertainingly that the 1200 plus pages seem to fly by and one is left wanting more.
It is difficult to say exactly what it is about Hamilton’s Confederation that is so seductive, but it is a Universe one would be happy to live in (though perhaps not on Earth or one of the Frontier planets). It has been meticulously constructed which is evinced by the fact that the author has brought out a supplementary ‘Confederation Handbook’ which tells you all you need to know (or for most of us far more than we need to know) about the star-systems and races of this trilogy. I wouldn’t go as far as buying it, but I did spend a pleasant twenty minutes in a bookshop having a good browse through it, which was quite a hermeneutic experience.

Fairyland – Paul J McAuley (1995)


‘In the twenty-first century Europe is divided between the First World bourgeoisie, made rich by nanotechnology and the cheap slave labour of genetically engineered Dolls, and the Fourth World of refugees and the homeless, displaced by war and economic turbulence.

Alex Sharkey is trying to make his mark as a designer of psychoactive viruses in London whilst staying one step ahead of the police and Triad gangs. He finds an unlikely ally in a scary-smart but dangerous child named Milena, but his troubles really begin when he unwittingly helps Milena quicken intelligence in a Doll.
It is the first of the fairies.

Milena wants to escape forever to her own private Fairyland, but some of the Folk she has created have other ideas about where her destiny lies…’

Blurb from the 2009 Gollancz paperback edition.

Somewhat Michael Swanwick-ish in style, McAuley takes us on a real trip through a near future Europe. Alex, a slightly stereotyped fat geek, designs and deals in hallucinatory viruses and is seriously in debt to Billy Rock, the local villain. Billy has a job for Alex, and it includes a young prodigy called Milena.
In this world, genetically engineered humanoids called Dolls are manufactured to be used as cheap labour and fashionable pets.. Rock has subverted this to create fighting dolls in a venture called The Killing Fields.
Rock wants Alex and Milena to work together to change the Dolls’ DNA so that he will be able to breed them. Milena, however, has other ideas and uses the research to raise a Doll’s intelligence to sapience, and creates the first of The Fairies.
The narrative jumps forward to where Alex is travelling Europe, searching for Milena. Disneyworld is controlled by fairies and reality itself is being subverted by virus attacks which can change one’s moods, beliefs or memories. Alex herself believes that Milena has infected him with some viral love potion which has caused him to follow her across Europe.
In the meantime Milena, herself originally a product of company research has become The Fairy Queen, an amoral monarch whose subjects have been killing young girls for their ovaries in order to raise changelings among themselves or, as Milena explains, harvesting the ovaries of their own experiments which they planted among humans.
McAuley’s attempt to turn myth into reality works remarkably well. Our original Celtic stories of The Fair Folk show them to be wilful, amoral and often cruel and illogical creatures who would trap people in time or replace their babies with fairy babies (another concept used in this novel)
There are no doubt other parallels which will be more obvious to others.