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The Curve of The Earth by Simon Morden
Cover Artist: Tigaer Design
Review by Ernest Lilley
Orbit Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780316220064
Date: 19 March 2013 List Price $15.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Simon Morden's Russian ex-pat physicist revolutionary, Samuil Petrovitch's is back ten years after the events of the Metrozone trilogy. His adopted daughter Lucy, now 24 and off in Alaska doing research on aurora physics, suddenly goes missing from the Freezone's pervasive personal computer links. In fact, the whole area around where she was goes dark, and it looks like something really big fell out of the sky just before it happened. Petrovitch, Maddie (his gal/wife) and the rest of Freezone are wild to find Lucy, but the US government is dragging its heels on a search effort. Freezone and the Feds don't get along well, in part because they hacked the US global missile shield back in the day and stole all the nuclear codes. But that was then. Water under the bridge. So what's up with their lame search effort?

By Simon Morden:
* The Lost Art
Metrozone:
* Equations of Life
* Theories of Flight
* Degrees of Freedom
* The Curve of The Earth

I loved the Metrozone trilogy that preceded this, starring Russian physicist and cyber-revolutionary Samuil Petrovitch. Petrovitch is both the hero of the Freezone revolution, or maybe the New Machine Jihad, his best friend is Michael, the nearly omniscient AI that manages things for the new city-state, and the inventor of both cheap energy and gravitational repulsion. Michael's a cyborg, and thinks he'll wind up having to completely replace the bio-parts in about thirty years, which isn't surprising because he gives them quite a bit of wear, losing his heart in the first, his eyes in the second, and a bunch of other stuff in the third. So, Petrovitch is a lot of things, but hey...it took him three books (Equations of Life, Theories of Flight, and Degrees of Freedom) to get that way.

By the way, I ran late getting this review done, and I blame Petrovitch for it. I made the mistake of opening up the first book in the series to check some facts...and either aliens abducted me or I got lost reading the entire first trilogy again. It was just as good the second time around.

Now comes Curve of the Earth, set ten years later, and the start of a new trilogy. I just slammed through it, and it's a blast.

Petrovitch goes to America, which has been taken over by the Reconstructionist Party (think precursor to the guys in Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale) and wends his way to the great white north to find Lucy, who he adopted after finding her in the middle of the war he co-opted in Theories of Flight and has gone missing doing research on Alaska's North Slope. The Americans claim to be looking for her, but their efforts are tokens at best, and Petrovitch is increasingly coming to believe he's her only hope. Along the way he's saddled with Joesph Newcomen, a deeply lackluster FBI agent, whom he berates, belittles, and tries his best to brainwash...or in his worldview, un-brainwash...to A) care about saving Lucy, and B) get to understand how far the US has fallen since the days when it actually did anything helpful or courageous in the world.

Though the Metrozone trilogy took place in post apocalyptic London, it was a breath of fresh air compared to this trek across the US, where everyone lives with the risk of losing their comfortable existence at the whim of a repressive government that's so invaded their lives that they don't recognize the stink of fear coming off their bio-engineered roses. It's a pretty mad romp, with an army of secret agents dogging our boys heels and Petrovitch dodging, de-bugging, and decrying them at every turn...often because, well, he's Petrovitch.

Mixed in with why the US isn't really looking for Lucy is the bigger question of what fell out of the sky, or more accurately, what the US shot down. It could have been Chinese, but they sound really sincere when they say it wasn't them. So who, and why the cover-up?

I suspect that Simon Morden would have a hard time making a trip to the grocery store boring, at least if it's Petrovitch doing the shopping, and The Curve of the Earth offers a wild dogsled ride from one end to the other in true Metrozone fashion. Still, it's not as engaging as the first series. We're mostly cut off from anyone except AI Michael, who carries on an internal dialog with Petrovitch, and the only new character we acquire is Newcomb. In fact, the mystery of whether he's going to grow a pair, stop being such a mudak and actually help find Lucy takes center stage over the actual quest they're on. Given our boy's track record for co-opting enemies, it seems likely, but with or without his help it's long odds on the rescue.

In the end, the answer to what chicken little saw fall out of the sky comes out of left field and the whole ending blindsides the reader more than a bit, leaving more questions than answers. Of course, if we assume that this is the first book in the next trilogy, that gives us something to look forward to. Unfortunately, while the first trilogy included teasers from the following book, we don't get that here, instead it includes a plug for Germline, T.C. McCarthy's excellent bio-mil-punk war novel.

One disaffected note to leave with you before you rush out and get a copy. Morden's titles all invoke a blend of poetry and physics, and the first three books had Op-Art covers that, to me, seemed perfect for the stories. Now they're using standard (mis)representational art of scenes that don't quite match the book, and it seems lame. Yes, yes, it's nice art, but the old covers were strikingly iconoclastic...and if that's not the perfect way to present Samuil Petrovitch to the world, I don't know what is.

Still, sign me up for whatever comes next, and let's not take too long coming up with it, okay?

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