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June 14th, 2003

Sometimes it's a good idea to buy cheap books from the clearance table in New Worlds. Sometimes it isn't. However, the jury's still out for the Brian Daley's GammaLAW books - as a few pages into The Broken Country I realised that I wasn't reading the third volume of a series of related novels, instead I was dropped into the middle of a single novel that had been split into four parts.

This makes The Broken Country very difficult to review. Daley juggles several major plot strands - but as this story doesn't stand alone, they don't resolve, leaving you waiting for more. You're seeing characters as they move on their arcs, in the ballistic trajectory set by the author. But you can't see where they began, or where they're going - just how they react to the stimulus of the story.

There's certainly something here, a story that rises above the run-of-the-mill military space opera, by the simple act of plunging it into the heart of a Vancean wierd planetary romance. Daley's world building is careful and methodical, and his back-history well crafted. You can feel that the world of Aquamarine has been lived on for thousands of years, that it's fallen from high-technology back into barbarism, and that it's finding its way out, despite its many disadvantages (not the least its vicious living ocean). It's also clear that the GammaLAW mission, despite its good intentions, is not welcome, and is on the verge of failure.

Of course, what this means for me is that I now have to track down the rest of the series, and then read them as the single 1,200 page novel that they're meant to be. I'll be back with a more complete review when that's done...

The Penetration Of The Mainstream

From Oliver Morton's excellent Guardian review of Martin Rees' Our Final Century:
Devastating famines, mega-droughts, wars and plagues, both natural and not, are all possible, even likely. But they are not inevitable; enlightened statecraft, open societies, international solidarity, overhauled medicine, respect for human rights and the wise and accountable use of technology could help us not only avoid the worst of our future but also build on its best prospects.

In left-leaning science-fiction circles you increasingly come across Alasdair Gray's exhortation to "work as if you lived in the early days of a better nation", advice which remains applicable however bad the outlook. In that Rees's timely warnings underline the need for the sort of participatory optimism Gray describes, they are useful. They would have been even more welcome, though, if he had offered a little more by way of strategies for survival.
Time for Mr Rees to read some Karl Schroeder or Al Reynolds?
...is now online.

Six pages of house building at its best...