September 21st, 2002

The Saturday Morning "Good Grief, I'm Awake" Review: Crescent City Rhapsody

Kathleen Ann Goonan's tales (Queen City Jazz and Mississipi Blues) of a post catastrophe world pulling itself out of a pit of despair are some of the more lyrical pieces of modern SF, with their ecelctic mix of jazz and nanotech. It's an empty, silent world, where bio-cities care for their inhabitants, protecting them fro the strange EMP effects that have devastated the world. Plagues of belief sweep the world, and one, the New Orleans Plague, drags its sufferes Huck Finn-style down the Mississpi to the Gulf Of Mexico.

Now, in Crescent City Rhapsody, Goonan takes us back to the birth of her world, in a multi-threaded journey through the nanotech apocalypse and the arrival of The Silence. It's a story of loss, of discovery and the birth of a new kind of humanity. Two main characters form the hub of the story - the resurrected Marie Laveau, New Orlean's fixer and unwitting voudon Queen (who loses her family and her life) and Zeb Aberly, an astronomer at a small college, suffering from a bi-polar disorder, who finds himself bouncing off a conspiracy of silence.

As Goonan moves us around her world we see the collapse of our civilisation, as The Silence's EMP bursts wipe out our electronic infrastructure piece by piece. But we also see the birth of new societies, and new ways of living as nanotechnology and biotechnology rush to fill the gaps. If government paranoia doesn't get in the way of things, this could be the birth of a utopia. But things don't go as people of goodwill want, and nanotech belief plagues and uncontrolled "surges" mean that things go from bad to worse. And as we've already read Queen City Jazz, we know just how bad there going to become...

The only hope is Marie's Crescent City, an artificial island of artists and scientists somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico...

Goonan delivers us a coherent whole from what could be a disjointed story. Don't expect a standalone story as this is the third volume in a series of four, and is obviously setting up elements for use in the final volume, Light Music. Her characterisation is good, and the use of jazz imagery throughout the novel is easy to grasp, even if you're not as much a fan of New Orleans' swing as the author! With a story that travels over many years across a fractured and disintegratingworld, Goonan works hard to maintain a coherent whole, and manages superbly.

Crescent City Rhapsody is not a book to start reading Goonan with, but certainly an essential one for the series!
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