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Biased and superficial Science Fiction reviews


Copyright 2006 by Elizabeth Bear

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SOJALS rating:     
one SOJALS point one SOJALS point no SOJALS point no SOJALS point no SOJALS point    Mediocre (2/5)

I first read this on the 26th December 2006.

In the future, the human population is a small fraction of what it was back in the 21st century.

We are highly-educated, talented and skilled. We are supported by amazing technology but we are ruled by the Coalition, an unforgiving government that harshly enforces the doctrine of minimal environment impact.

In fact, rigid and brutal as the Coalition is, it is gentle and forgiving compared to distributed artificial intelligences, the Governors, that ensure ecological balance across their compass. The Coalition in fact serves as the buffer between the Governors and imperfect Humanity, acting where necessary to ensure the Governors do not.

Now the Coalition has found another lost colony: New Amazonia. This world is in many regards a mirror image of Earth and the other human worlds. It is wild and untamed. The population relish their blood sports. They are unapologetic meat eaters. They believe themselves more important than any other life-form on the planet. These are abhorrent, repellent beliefs to Humanity under the Coalition.

Moreover - and you may have inferred this from the name of the colony - the ruling women believe that men are unthinking and violent brutes. They consider that men are too dangerous to be allowed to roam free and thus must be bound as slaves and farmed as near animals.

This puts them rather at odds with the Coalition and the Governors.

Earth has sent an ambassadorial mission to New Amazonia. The ambassador is Vincent Katherinessen. He is accompanied by his assistant Michelangelo Kusangi-Jones. However Vincent and Michelangelo are more than just ambassadors, they are Coalition secret agents and at this they are superbly competent. Their mission is to bring New Amazonia under Earth's control one way or another, diplomatically or by force of arms.

Their own feelings on being reunited on a mission are complicated by the fact that, years before, Vincent and Michelangelo had a love affair. Both now question whether it is wise, safe or necessary to resume the relationship. It seems that these two, like everyone else involved in the negotiations, have views that they can't express openly, and like almost everyone else, are planning a betrayal.

In the midst of a revolution, will the brilliance of Vincent and Michelangelo allow them to steer a safe path for themselves and the New Amazonians?

The path is rather more involved than they had imagined. There's an alien master race to contend with. The aliens' vast, unimaginable resources coupled with an ethical system somewhat divergent from our own may make any peaceful solution impossible.

This was a very interesting book for three reasons.

  • (let's get this out of the way quickly) the two protagonists are gay men and their love scenes weren't quite my cup of tea. I'd point out to Elizabeth that I'm not entirely reactionary and if for example she ever revised the novel, I'd be more than fine if the protagonists were a couple of gay girls
  • the various discussions about meat-eating and the keeping of pets and which of these may be worse
  • the rather intriguing character of this quantumized alien dragon with his different, rather than morally superior, ethos.

This book was so much better than I expected, especially with what I'd assumed would be a timeworn plot. The plot was redeemed with a some clever twists and the novel turned out to be very good indeed. Indeed Elizabeth has made Vincent and Michelangelo such compelling characters that I expect she'll be using them again.

What's it got? Aliens; amazons (but be warned, it's not quite Poul Anderson's "Virgin planet") and superb outfitting.

Loaded on the 25th January 2007.
Cover of Carnival
Cover art by Steve Stone / Bernstein & Andriulli Inc.

Reviews of other works by Elizabeth Bear: