of the Calculor by Sean McMullen
Hardcover - 592 pages (September 2001) Dimensions (in Inches): 1.77 x 9.50 x 6.56 Tor Books; ISBN: 0312877366
Review by Ernest Lilley
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Sean McMullen wraps up his Greatwinter series about a post apocalypse world where Australia and America are islands of civilization, whales call humans to their death with an irresistible psychic command, an artificial intelligence orbits the earth doing pretty much what it pleases, and the most advance computer in the world is made up of slaves in cubicles passing each other the results of manual calculations.
The Greatwinter trilogy comes full circle when early in the book an EMP pulse from the orbital intelligence known as Mirrorsun wipes everything electronic off the face of the Earth. It's happened before, millennia ago, in fact Mirrorsun is the descendant of an orbital star wars program that got carried away, firing on every motorized conveyance and electrogizmo on the planet.
Over the course of the series though, something's been changing on the orbital AI, and humanity has even gotten back in communication, with the result that it stopped shooting and technological progress could take off.
In the first book, the brilliantly realized Souls in the Great Machine the author introduced us to his future Austrailia, Australica, and the rock and a hard place that humanity has been stuck between for the past two thousand years. Above, Mirrorsun, ready to zap anything that it classifies as dangerous, and from the sea, the Call, an irresistible psychic summons by sea creatures that drag humans to their deaths. While the Call was an odd premise, it was interesting to watch the author's development of its consequences, resulting in a world where everyone would start walking blindly off into the desert totally unaware of their surroundings at the drop of a hat.
Almost everyone that is, as we were introduced to a race of genetically modified humans with a bit of bird DNA added in known as Avians. Hard to tell apart from normal humans, except for a close look at their feathery hair fibers.
But the greatest bit of inventing Sean McMullen did in the series was the calculor, and the Library of Rochester, with it's ranks of Librarian soldiers, secret agents and most importantly, the calculor components themselves, poor souls kept in cubicles connected by wires where they each performed machine arithmetic and passed the results along, making a giant human computer.
In the second book of the series, we met the American Airlords, an elite group who could fly above the range of the call and who settled things by aerial duels in handcrafted planes with treasured combustion engines. The Australican Avians tried to gain control of the American weapon and plane technology in the course of the book and a major civil war broke out in the skies over America as a result. At the end of the novel, the war finished and America at peace again the Call suddenly stopped as one of the major characters, herself an Avian, made a truce with the Cetians.
Now, the Americans realize that they need to change thier way of life, and quickly, in order to survive in a world without the call. In America there are no large animals left, but a bold scheme to reintroduce horses to provide a rapid colonization of he American wilderness before the Mexicans rise up is proposed.
Turn about is fair play, they suppose, and if the Austrailican Avians can try to steal thier weapons technology, the least they can do is to provide some breeding horses, through barter or abduction.
The task requires the development of a new order of long range aircraft, as the truce with the Cetezoids allows no ships. Old records show that there are islands in the Pacific that can be made into intermediate stops and the American Princess Samondel, the first female Airlord and a hero of the war, drives the effort forward with furious intensity.
Meanwhile, on Austrailca, the Avians are being hunted down and killed by religious zealots. True they did sneak around during the call and do what ever they pleased, but that's history. Avians aren't' the only ones being persecuted in Australica though, as every numerate soul is being forced to work in the rebuilt human calculor now that it's electrical successor has burned to a crisp.
And above it all, something strange is happening to the Mirrorsun. Its rotation is speeding up at a rate that makes the brightest minds of the library fear that it will break up and impact on the Earth's surface, and it's going to take a lot of computing power to figure out what's going to happen.
Whew. That's a lot of talk without even getting to the love stories between an outcast monk who happens to be the head of the library's secret police and the American princess, or the Jihad that's sweeping Australica and everything technological in its way, or about half a dozen other plot lines...all of which the author ties neatly together in the conclusion of one of the best Epics I've ever read.
If you've read the first two books, no doubt you need little urging to read this one. If you read it alone, you'll probably enjoy it even without the back story, but you might want to start at the beginning with Souls in the Great Machine. Either way, the Greatwinter Trilogy is certain to become one of science fictions master story arcs, and the author will no doubt continue to provide us with good reading for some time to come.
|© 2001 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu|