The Quiet War
by Paul J. McAuley
Cover Artist: SPARTH
Review by Mel Jacob
Pyr Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781591027812
Date: 22 September 2009 List Price $16.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Award wining British author Paul J. McAuley in his novel The Quiet War takes the reader or a tour of the moons of Saturn. A research biologist, he builds fascinating worlds using adaptations and gene manipulation to create plants able to survive the extreme conditions on the moons and to provide a habitat for humans. His multilayered narrative explores human adaptation, cultural change, and political systems.
The moons have honed the Outers, humans who settled them, through hardship and individuality and occasional gene manipulation. People who stayed on Earth struggled to re-establish a viable environment there, now want access to the technology and resources of the Outers, but consider the inhabitants an abomination. Peace and reconciliation fail, and war looms as inevitable.
McAuley tells his story through the eyes of five people: Macy Minot, a soil scientist and the nicest of the lot; Dave #8, a clone created for the war effort who suffers some ambivalence; Sri Hong-Owen, the foremost Earth expert in gene manipulation with a soft spot only for her sons; Cash Baker, a hot-shot pilot who undergoes surgery to meld him with his space plane; and Loc Ifrahim, an ambitious diplomat and master of deceit.
Avernus, the Outers' gene expert, looms as a remote god-like creature who tries to avert the war. Her creations have made the Outers efforts to adapt their environments successful. Sri Hong-Owen wants desperately to meet and work with her. Capturing her becomes a high priority for Sri and her employers.
Earth suffered from wars, climate change, and an attempt by the first Outers to destroy it from a colony on Mars. Instead, the Chinese destroyed them and the remnants fled to the outer Solar system. In the aftermath, "green saints" arose on Earth and focused efforts to restore the ecology. People are confined to cities with reclamation teams rebuilding the environment outside the cities. Oligarchies of wealthy families control the governments.
The Outers established democracies where they put everything to a vote. Divisions between the older generations and the new cause friction. The young people want to expand to the edge of the Solar System and even beyond, but not the older people. Some still remember the destruction of the Mars settlements.
Murder, revenge, and manipulation propel the novel to an exciting climax and lay the groundwork for the sequel, Gardens of the Sun. McAuley sometimes relies on lectures by the characters and information dumps, but non-stop action and switches between viewpoint characters keep the readers turning pages. Some hair-raising escapes verge on the miraculous.
The Quiet War was nominated for the 2009 Arthur C. Clarke award for the best British science fiction novel of the year.