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The Quiet War by Paul McAuley

01/10/2008. Contributed by Gareth D Jones

Buy The Quiet War in the USA - or Buy The Quiet War in the UK

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pub: Gollancz. 462 page enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK only). ISBN: 978-0-575-07933-5).

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A brief and possibly pointless note on classification to start with. The cover describes this as an 'exotic, fast-paced space opera' and while it's certainly exotic, it's not what I would expect in a space opera. It's much closer in style to a hard SF story, set firmly within the solar system and paying close attention to the physics of space travel and practicalities of life in that environment. I don't think that will matter too much to most readers of SF, but it's nice to know what you're getting.

I did ultimately enjoy this book, the fascinating inventiveness of the bio-engineered life-forms, the intricate detail of both the societies and habitats, the complex characters all amounted to a fabulous story. It took time to get into though.

The start was relatively slow and the first two chapters seemed rather clichéd to me. It opens with a group of specially bred soldiers in training, reminding me of programmes such as 'Dark Angel' or even 'Kung Fu'. This is followed by a group of elite pilots being modified to fly a new type of fighter. The opening few chapters are bogged down with infodumps and long explanatory paragraphs of background developments and rather laboured the point of the current ruination of the Earth.

After this, once the characters have been introduced and the setting established, the story starts to gain momentum. The Outers, who live on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, have adopted numerous biological tweaks to adapt to their environment, something that worries certain factions on earth. The stories of several individuals are played out against the power struggles between factions both on Earth and out among the planets. These include politicians, soldiers, spies and biologists. None of them are two-dimensional. They all develop during the book, changing their opinions, learning, developing and forming new allegiances. Sri Hong-Owen is particularly well developed. She appears from several viewpoints, giving an appearance of severity from one viewpoint, seen as a figure of power from another and revealing a wealth of feeling and ambition when her own viewpoint is used.

This is a book that has been carefully thought out and the author displays a wealth of knowledge on subjects such as bio-remediation and terraforming. Sometimes it goes into a bit too much detail, but this only adds to the authenticity. It's a tale well worth taking the time to get into and enjoying McCauley's vision of the future.

Gareth D. Jones

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This book has 57 votes in the sci-fi charts

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