Saturday, June 08, 2013

Spin State, Spin Control: A Review

I can't remember when I first read Chris Moriarty's Spin State, the first book in her three book series which is finished by this year's Ghost Spin; I do know that the minute I finished the book I turned over heaven and earth to get the sequel, Spin Control (since we were living in Fuck Smith by then, this meant driving up the hill to a real bookstore, and then -- thwarted -- ordering it from Amazon).

Now Ghost Spin is finally out.  I'm only 40 pages into it and I can tell already I'm going to love this one as deeply as I loved the other two and that -- like the other two -- it will be an entirely new experience.

Queering SFF Ghost Spin Chris Moriarty

I'm going to try to avoid spoilers here, while giving you a review nonetheless.

First, these are cyberpunk the way cyberpunk should be done; and SF the way SF should be done.  By which I mean to say Moriarty uses the technology and the science to power the story, rather than to just say Look at Me, I Know Science. The science feels coherent and real, and as if this science has, in fact, changed the future in these coherent ways.

All these changes seem believable, too.  One of my favorite bits in Spin Control come when our main character, Arkady, who's a biologist, is being interrogated (by someone who is not a scientist) and gets asked about the terraforming mission they were on.

"Synthetic biospheres are tricky," [Arkady says.] "If something killed off the original colonists, there's always the chance it could still be around to kill you."

"What do you mean, killed off?" Moshe interrupted.  "Like...predators?"

""  Was that a joke?"  "More like mold."

All through Moriarty's novel's, we get little shocky bits of realism like that -- bits that, frankly, show the "realism" of the grimdark up for sham it is.

Second, changes in technology are reflected, in Moriarty's novels, in changed cultures.  On Earth itself, the world has changed markedly; it has changed very markedly out in the colonies. (Here, I see Moriarty in a dialogue with C. J. Cherryh: Arkady and the other clones of Moriarty's colonies are a response, and an interesting one, to Cherry's Azis.)

Cohen and Catherine Li are Moriarty's most interesting characters, though I do have a soft spot for Arkady.  (Who could help it?  He's adorable!)

Cohen is an Emergent AI.  This means he's an artificial intelligence composed of about 30 other artificial intelligences who have grouped together (like a school of fish, I think?) to make a single intelligence that calls itself Cohen, which is dominated by a controlling entity who used to be a human intelligence named Hy Cohen.

I think I have that right.  And other intelligences add and leave the group from time to time, but the AI Cohen is still Cohen.  It's been alive for about four centuries and it's a political and economic powerhouse, with ties to Mossad.  Also, its original programming (written by Hy Cohen-the-human) make it loyal to certain humans, known as inscribed players.  (Shades of Asimov's Laws of Robotics here, except the rules make sense.)

Catherine Li is a soldier -- was a soldier -- who fought in the Syndicate Wars.  (Arkady comes from the Syndicates.)  She fought on the wrong side.  It's (probably) not her fault.  She's the Butcher of Gilead -- she thinks -- and when we meet her she's being controlled by (probably) some bad people, including her boss, Helen Nguyen.  Though she's not sure she's right about this, because in the future the wrong people can fuck with your brain.  And do.  She's also a construct, which has to do with genetic engineering. (Arkady too is genetically engineered.)  Li and Cohen end up -- well, spoilers.

All of these books also deal with sexuality in various interesting ways.  Cohen, being an AI, puts on and takes off human bodies (shunts) of various genders at will.  Li is bisexual.  Arkady comes from a culture which has a taboo against heterosexuality. In future Earth, sterility is used as a weapon.  And so on.

And -- which you have probably noticed by now -- this is not a future in which everyone is a nice white American from Iowa, or a future in which we all travel to the stars and build Iowa farms there. Though Ghost Spin does start on a planet named after an American city, these books are (1) nicely cosmopolitan and (2) have women in them.  And not just one woman.  Lots of women.  Women who are people, who have functions, who act, who aren't one-dimensional, who matter to the plot.  Moriarty gives us worlds, in other words, like the real world -- it's half women.

That's nice.

Also, she writes like a demon.

Just saying.

Highly recommended.

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