by Chris Moriarty
Cover Artist: Stephen Youll
Review by Ernest Lilley
Bantam-Spectra Trade ISBN/ITEM#: 0553586246
Date: October 2003 List Price 0.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK /
In our interview with Spin State author Chris Moriarty she laid out the agenda for her debut novel: "I wanted to take my favorite aspects of hard SF and cyberpunk and roll them into a high action, high body count story with an AltCult slant." And that's just what she did.
It took me about two pages into my advance reader's copy, without the Stephen Youll cover to frame the work, to decide that Chris was a talent to be reckoned with and Spin State a book to be recommended. After that, it just kept getting better. Fans of superlative hard edged SF from the UK like Altered Carbon or Gridlinked should find this well conceived and executed tale right up their alley.
Hanah Sharifi is the brilliant physicist that made quantum entanglement the practical tool that makes this future possible, or she was, until she died in a mine accident on Compson's world. Catherine Li is a UN Peacekeaper in a future not so far off that the people, problems, and politics don't look like something you might have encountered in any mining community on Earth where the ore is more valuable than the people. Even though the people who mine it aren't, strictly speaking, human anymore, or that AI's can be as human as anyone, right down to their needs for love and hate.
When Li comes back from a disastrous mission to take out an illegal "wetware" lab on a distant world, she's informed that she's screwed up so badly her only option is to take an assignment back on the world she swore to herself she'd die before she returned to, the mining world she grew up on. It's a dirty hunk of rock that, in classic SF trope, makes the quantum mechanically entangled UN space possible. Where genetically engineered humans dig for "Bose-Einstein condensates", a form of matter that probably shouldn't exist, but which increases the efficiency of instantaneous communication to the point where information and matter transport between star systems is commonplace. Virtual reality lets you be anywhere you want, and the real thing means you can die there if you're not careful.
Li is sent to investigate Sarifi's death on a world she swore she'd die before she returned to, and one, coincidentally, that she had to die to leave. Because she's not quite what she appears, or what she claims, an unmodified human, but the records of that person are long buried, though the memory of what that cost her can never be buried deep enough, and returning to Compson's World threatens to unearth memories, skeletons and mysteries that should all have been out of sight and mind. Now she's back to try and find the original data from research that Sarifi was conducting, research that might make synthetic Bose-Einstein condensates a reality, and shut down the mines. As things progress, they go from bad to much much worse, and Li comes to understand that she has more to lose than she ever knew she had.
Dark, exciting, visceral, riveting, compelling...it's all that and more. Moriarty has combined the desperate lives of miners with intelligently deployed speculative science and woven it into story fueled by the best and worst of human drives.
A note about Chickpunk: Though Chris thinks that the future of the genre may well lie in "Chickpunk", that's not news at all. SF readers have been into hardcore-chick SF since it's inception. On most any side of the n-dimensional gender polygon you'll find that the idea of a tough female doing cool stuff with cutting edge gadgetry (and in one notable case - cutting edge fingernails) has been raising pulses since the dawn of SF. In a James Tiptree Jr. moment though, I'll risk my self respect by admitting...until I got her picture for the review I'd been thinking of Chris as a male writer, even though her protagonist was female. Why? At the risk of causing an outcry, it was her application of quantum physics technology and violence that did it. And the male last name. Moriarty. Which I associate with Holmes's nemesis. I will however, keep that in mind as a lesson in my own assumptions.