by Chris Moriarty
Cover Artist: Stephen Youll
Review by Ernest Lilley
Spectra Mass Market ISBN/ITEM#: 9780553586251
Date: 26 June 2007 List Price $6.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Original review ran in our July 2007 issue. We're re-running it here for the mass market paperback release.
The more things change, the more they remain the same, as we witness in Chris Moriarty's follow up novel to her brilliant debut in Spin State. The new book, Spin Control, makes this point in the Middle East, where Israeli and Palestinians are still at each other's throats in a gridlocked grudge match, amidst which a number of intelligence agencies and other players are scrambling to capture a prize from off world, a genetic virus that might be a weapon of considerable importance. If anyone can understand what it does. Though we get a fair amount of action in with now ex-Major Catherine Li, and her AI consort Cohen, they're not quite at the center of the storm. That would be Arkady, a post-human from the Syndicate, a collection of cloned human lines that have been engineered as advances in humanity, though in what direction it's not always clear.
Arkady and a crew of clones, paired by series type, had been exploring an Earthlike planet which held hope for its advanced state of terraforming, no doubt the sign of a failed colony. Indeed, it had an unusually robust ecology, including species that hadn't been seen elsewhere since they died off in the eco blight that consumed Earth. But the explorers also came down with a virus that seemed to have some odd side effects, including increased fertility, and the wheels within wheels of the Syndicate, in the person of spymaster Korchow, decided to send one of the crew to Earth, ostensibly to sell the virus to the highest bidder. The real plan is one of those slowly revealed onion layer deals, and while there was no shortage of intrigue and deceit in the first book, this one raises its level to LeCarrian levels. Soldier, AI, Golem, Spy might have been a suitable title.
Arkady spends a lot of the book coming up to speed on life in the un-cloned world, and getting his smooth edges roughed up. For him there's a pretty fair amount of development. Throughout it he pines for his créche-mate and lover, the brilliant and quirky Arkasha, who made the original discoveries about the nature of the virus, which turns out to be something of a genetic search engine, though this turns out to be less important in terms of plot and action that it might have bee. Handed back and forth, often in the company of Li and Cohen, between various bidders, Arkady gets subjected to a variety of interrogation methods, all allowable under the rules of auction, and some of which he mercifully won' t be able to remember. But there's another game going on in town, or several, one being a search for a mole in Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, and Didi, the master of spymasters is running a complex operation to ferret out the double agent "Absalom", who had been assumed compromised and put out to pasture. Until it became apparent that data was still passing to the Palestinians.
Against the backdrop of tradecraft and trickery we get to watch the main characters of the last book go through their own crisis. Li is no longer part of the UN Peacekeepers, having burned that bridge behind her, and is married to the AI Cohen, who appears in the flesh by renting out the body of a guy who doesn't seem to have anything better to do. Their marriage is running into a rocky patch as Cohen figures out that something is eating away at Li, and driving a wedge between them. Something Li can't articulate, so he can't fix.
Technologically the new wrinkle in this book is that the stalemated war between Israeli and Palestinians is being fought by AIs, but through human marionettes, just as Cohen is riding his puppet person. The resulting troops are known as "Enderbots" and their casualty rates are much lower than the ones racked up before the AIs got in the game. Readers of Orson Scott Card's novel will see the relevance of the name when they learn that the AIs, being too sensitive to actually deal with killing, think it's a simulation. Once they get around to figuring out that it's real death for their marionettes, the only thing to do is to wipe their systems and start over.
There are a number of segues off to the planet Novalis, where the virus what discovered, and the mystery of the "other" exploration party that our team gets signs of will have to wait for another book for resolution. All in all you get three or four flavors of humanity between clones, AIs, Terrans and orbital habitats, as the author continues to expand her universe.
Spin Control has a more diffuse narrative than the first book, and as a result it doesn't move along nearly as fast or with as tight a focus. It's a fine book, but it has a different flavor, more twisty and thoughtful. And though the storyline in this book gets reasonable closure, it's clear that we're headed back out for another spin to find out what happens next. Which is something I'll be looking forward to.