Review: The Quiet War by Paul McCauley

The Quiet War by Paul McCauley
The Quiet War by Paul McCauley

The Quiet War
Paul McCauley
Pyr, 2009

In a future where Earth has been ravaged by economical disaster humanity is split down two divergent paths.  Down one path are the Outers, exiled first to the moon then to Mars and now settled on the moons surrounding Jupiter and Saturn they espouse the ideas of Ancient Greek Democracy and use genetic manipulation to modify their bodies in ways both practical and cosmetic. Meanwhile, on Earth the powerful Brazilian government, ruled by a class of powerful families, follows a nature based religion predicated on restoring the Earth, or Gaea, to her former glory.  These two societies find themselves at social and ideological loggerheads not only with each other but within divergent faction within each society as well.  It isn’t long before the spectre of war looms on the horizon.

The Quiet War is a novel I really wanted to love but ended up just liking.  Part of the problem is what I felt was a tendency towards exposition that frequently felt unnecessary and often served to jar me out of my enjoyment of the story.  The exposition often seemed tied to Sri Hong-Owen’s perspective to the point where every time the story shifted back to her I’d register and internal groan.  I think part of it was her characterization as somewhat of a cold, purely scientific individual that made reading these portions of the story feel almost clinical.  The chapters I looked forward to most were those featuring Macy Minnot and Dave #8.

Macy is a microbiologist who typically engineers mud for biomes.  She is brash, forthright and one of the most believable characters in the story.  Through Macy I felt we get some of the more fascinating glimpse of McCauley’s world.  We get glimpses into the world beyond the concerns of the novel at large; tantalizing snippets of the wonderfully imaginative ideas like the religious cult Macy ran away from.  Ideas that are only explained just enough to light one’s imagination on fire.  Overall I found that from Macy’s perspective as an outsider operating in a society not her own the information we learn about Outer culture felt more natural and seemed to flow as part of the narrative.  This stood in direct contrast to the information we learn about Earth from other perspectives which frequently felt as asides that never actually contributed to forwarding the novel’s plot. The other character I enjoyed was Dave #8.  Dave #8 is a clone being raised and bred to fight the Outers.  It is a fascinating perspective and McCauley does a great job of illuminating the diverse personalities amongst the clones particularly with the religious minded Dave #27.  I did feel that the concluding section of Dave #8’s arc was lacking something but given the quirks in his personality seen from the very beginning his final decision has an air of inevitability that is difficult to argue with.   While his early chapters detail the training and indoctrination he receives are fascinating in their detail I found the later sections during his first mission a little less engaging.  Those later section do manage to provide another grounds-eye glimpse at Outer life but the relationship that forms the crux of Dave #8’s internal crisis comes off a bit forced.

The character I wanted to like but just could never get a handle on was hot shot pilot Cash Baker.  Baker, as part of an experimental program to integrate an augmented nervous system with a new fusion engine powered fighter craft, forms the crux of one of the coolest ideas in the book.  Unfortunately,  I never felt this aspect of the story really developed and the final conclusion of this plot line provoked an incredulous “Really?”  Which is shame since it’s hard to get much cooler then a guy who pilots his fighter with his frickin’ mind!

Eventually politics and the exploration of the differences between Outer and Earth society gives way to big set piece type action which is a nice change of pace and made for a thrilling conclusion to the novel.  In the end The Quiet War was novel full of big ideas that were like ambrosia for the imagination but suffered when attempting to tie those same ideas to characters who were emotionally engaging.  While Macy Minnot was a resounding success as a protagonist, almost the very definition of scrappy hero, I never felt the rest of novel’s cast really reached the same level of believability each character seemed designed more the serve a purpose rather then be a person.  The truth I was perhaps let down by own high expectations for The Quiet War my problems with characters aside it is still an exciting read full of thrilling scientific ideas and the beginnings of what could be an epic story.  The sequel, Gardens of the Sun (Amazon , Book Depository) , is out in the UK already and will hit the US from Pyr in March and I’ll certainly take a look when it does.

2 thoughts on “Review: The Quiet War by Paul McCauley

  1. Pingback: Review: Cowboy Angels by Paul McAuley « King of the Nerds!!!

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