01/12/2009. Contributed by Gareth D Jones
pub: Gollancz. 439 page enlarged paperback. Price: £14.99 (UK only). ISBN: 978-0-575-07937-3.
check out website: www.orionbooks.co.uk
Following on from 'The Quiet War', Paul McCauley traces the aftermath of the devastating events of that novel through the eyes of the same half-dozen characters we came to know last time. As 'Gardens Of The Sun' progresses we're taken on a grand tour of the solar system, from Earth to Pluto and almost everywhere in between. It's a thoroughly enjoyable story and seems more relaxed and elegant than its predecessor while showing the same adherence to scientific realism.
There is much more character development in this novel than the last as things become less black and white. Macy Minnot, for example, who defected to the Outers and was later forced to flee farther from Earth, now struggles with homesickness and attempts to integrate herself with her adopted people. The disagreements between the Outers and the surprising commonality she finds with former enemies are part of the vast tapestry that Paul McCauley uses to weave the plot together. The gene wizard Sri Hong-Owen continues her quest to understand the work of the legendary Avernus and slowly draws away from her family and the rest of humanity. The pilot Cash Baker finds himself still the puppet of his Brazilian masters, but at the same time starts to make his own contacts. The scheming Loc Ifrahim continues to take advantage of everything that happens and along the way finds a like-minded companion. Whereas in 'The Quiet War' he was pretty despicable, in this book he works through a remarkable transformation to become one of the most sympathetic characters of the novel.
It's a much broader plot this time, spread over many years and vast volumes of space. As before, most of the main characters don't meet, but the threads of their lives cross over, tying the story together neatly. It's when they do meet that the magic of the book shines through - moments that make you smile with satisfaction, shout for joy or swallow a lump in your throat.
The detailed descriptions of lunar landscapes, geological features and artificial habitats are still present, but are woven into the plot more subtly and poetically. However bizarre the biological enhancements or technological developments become, they always appear grounded in reasonable scientific principles. This makes the challenges, the tragedy and the triumph all the more effective.
I decided to coin the term 'Hard Space Opera' as I was reading 'Gardens Of The Sun'. It's a tale that encompasses the precepts of both sub-genres and does so with skill and panache.
Gareth D. Jones
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA