Dance For The Ivory Madonna by Don Sakers  
Paperback - 460 pages (January 2002)
Unknown; ISBN: 0971614717
Review by Ernest Lilley
Check out this book at: Amazon US

SFRevu Feature: Don Sakers Interview

"Imagine a Stand on Zanzibar written by a left-wing Robert Heinlein, and infused with the most exciting possibilities of the new cyber-technology: Dance for the Ivory Madonna."

-Melissa Scott, author of Dreaming Metal, The Jazz

Imagine a world where the color of your skin, the breadth of your girth, the choices you make about what prefix to attach to -sexual, matter very much...but mostly as a matter of personal pride rather than societal prejudice.

While you're at it, imagine a world run by Fandom.

If you think it's wishful thinking, Don Sakers would agree wholeheartedly. The practicality of the thing isn't as important as the desirability of it though, and Dance for the Ivory Madonna is the first near future utopia that I think would be fun, even though I might not be on top of the heap. Don probably wouldn't call it a utopia, what with global plagues and entire countries cordoned off from the outside world, but I think the shoe fits because it's a world dealing with problems out in the open, rather than pretending they don't exist...which makes it darn hard to do anything about them.

In DFTIM the United States has fragmented into a handful of different nations, Africa is a high tech haven created by a flood of black Americans that have gone back to reclaim their ancestral homes, and weren't willing to settle for the diseased, crippled and corrupt continent they found waiting. Oh, and once it looked like UMOJA might actually work, America found it easier to empty its largely black prison population across the sea. Where everybody pitched in, buried the tribal hatchet (no, not in other tribes necks) and the legacy of African-American matriarchy defeated the fundamentalist Islamic treatment of women.

Our story opens with a plague relief effort in the heart of the Navajo Nation, which has been cut off from the rest of the world by and organization called the Nexus, to enforce a UN proclamation, that basically says they should stop killing the Hopis on nation over.

The relief effort is headed by Damien, the hero of the piece, a member of Nexus, a semi-secret organization of hackers that enforces things like UN edicts by cutting off the data streams to countries that won't play nice on the world stage. Damien is there to assist the doctors of Medecines sans Frontieres to stop the spread of a virulent skin eating virus, as Nexus has lifted the interdict just enough to let this humanitarian aid through.

Along the way, he makes friends with Penelope, a fellow UMOJAn and another talented Nexus operative, an especially talented operative. He doesn't actually get to meet her for a while though, sharing only virtual space...but the line between real and virtual is pretty blurry here, in fact most everyone wears "spex", glasses much like the ones in William Gibson's Virtual Light which virtually enhance reality to add information, or just plain style. Ok, they're more than friends.

Damien has a boss in Nexus, the powerful woman known as "The Ivory Madonna," who also happens to be the American Minister (that's political, not religious) representing people of generous proportions. If this were Heinlein, she would be "the old man" character. Penelope has a boss too, but he's a more shadowy figure who forbids her from meeting the Ivory Madonna. Internal Nexus politics. 

Look, I could go on all day filling in enough details to tell you what the story is about, but that's Sakers job, and I'll leave him to it. There's a power struggle within Nexus, the balance of world power is on edge, the Ivory Madonna is on the run, and Don Sakers pulls idea after idea out of his hat to make us ask our favorite SF question: "What if?"

Dance for the Ivory Madonna is one of the most hopeful pieces of near future cyberpunk ever written, and one of the most fun as well.

2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu