The Quiet War

~by Paul McAuley
2009 Arthur C. Clarke Award Nominee
2009 Locus Award Nominee

I don't think I would have picked up Paul McAuley's The Quiet War had it not been for the Gawker futurism, science, and science fiction blog io9 (which I'm more or less addicted to); not because it wasn't something I would be interested in (because it most definitely is), but because I've never actually heard of McAuley. Plus, the title and cover art didn't really grab me since I (incorrectly) assumed the book was military SF, which I haven't read much of. Wrong! While there is certainly military involvement in the story, it is not at all the primary element. In a September 2009 post, io9 lamented the lack of science fiction "book club lit"--recent books that everyone seems to have read and wants to discuss. That post lead to the establishment of the io9 book club which I decided to participate in, or at least read along with. The first book to be selected for club discussion was The Quiet War, published in the UK by Gollancz in 2008, in the US by Pyr in 2009, and appearing on the shortlist for the 2009 Arthur C. Clarke Award.

After nearly being destroyed by climate change and environmental disaster, the Earth is slowly being reclaimed under powerful and often repressive regimes and families. The Outers, refugees living on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, have taken human evolution in a multitude of directions while preserving some of Earth's own lost traditions such as democracy and the devotion to scientific and genetic advancement. However, the younger generation is tired of the complacency of their elders, certain that it is the Outers' destiny to colonize the Solar System--something those on Earth are extremely wary of. Everyone knows that a war between Earth and the Outers is coming, the only questions are when and how.

The ideas and world building in The Quiet War are tremendous; they're perhaps not especially unique taken individually, but I've not seen them all brought together before in quite they way McAuley has. I was often reminded of Samuel R. Delany's Triton, particularly in regards to the moon settlements, inter-solar system conflict, and human modifications, but I will readily admit that I enjoyed reading The Quiet War much more. Unfortunately, I didn't find McAuley's characters and characterizations to be on par with his supporting environments. I felt very little connection to any of the characters and didn't particularly like most of them; this detachment made it difficult for me to care about what happened to them personally. I felt like I was strictly an observer to the story, almost as if I was reading a history book (which shouldn't necessarily be taken as a bad thing). It seemed to me that the characters remained static and for the most part unchanging despite the passage of time and important events; and even though each had a different personality, they each seemed to use the same "voice."

So, while I ultimately didn't enjoy The Quiet War as much as I was hoping to, I'm glad that I read it for the science and ideas alone. The book is probably the hardest bit of science fiction that I've read recently and it has a lot of very cool stuff and believable speculation going on. Part of this I think is because McAuley himself was a research biologist before turning to write full-time. The story itself seems somewhat fragmented, probably mostly because it follows so many different characters. Some details do feel like they are introduced out of order almost as if they were afterthoughts. Occasionally I was confused as to what people's motivations were, but I did enjoy the fair amount of intrigue involved. The Quiet War felt long to me and while it was worth reading, I don't think that I'll be rushing out to read its sequel Gardens of the Sun.

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