Simon Bisson (sbisson) wrote,
Simon Bisson

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A "Wet Saturday" review: Stamping Butterflies

Rudyard Kipling's short story "The Butterfly That Stamped" is a simple meditation on the intersection of ambitious wishes and overweening power, couched in the familiar form of a fairy tale. Jon Courtenay Grimwood's next novel Stamping Butterflies tells a similar story, filtered through post-Gitmo sensibilities and a North Africa we can almost recognise.

Three stories twist and turn their way around each other: Marrakech 1977, North Africa the day after tomorrow, and an artificial Chinese empire in the far future.

Moz is a Marrakech street kid who falls in with a faded rock star, while struggling to survive the cruel gangland world. It's a world where he has few choices, and those he makes will come back to haunt him again and again. Prisoner Zero is a broken man, drug-addled and possessed by visions of numbers and hearing the voice of the darkness. He's also a failed assassin, whose shot missed the President, in American custody on an Italian island. Realpolitik means he's going to die, but in a shit-coated cell (reminiscent of Geoffrey Rush's Sade in "Quills") he's scrawling out equations that could mean the stars. Somewhere in the future, somewhere in space, an emperor is waiting for his assassin. He's tired of living, tired of being the embodiment of the wishes that make the shells inhabitable. Meanwhile, the alien AI that inhabits the the 2023 shells of the Dyson sphere that is his home is also waiting, waiting for the emperor to make a choice that will allow it to change everything...

Three stories where the actors map out the same trajectories again and again, drawn in dreams and in the voices of the night. These are trajectories that could lead to death - or to a new life away from the old horrors.

This is a story which shows the small changes that build histories. The spirit of the alien sphere knows that it's constructed China will fail and fall, and through Prisoner Zero is aiming to build a new tomorrow on the ruins of today. In earlier novels Grimwood has shown the results of changes, in his alternate futures. Here he begins to build a new tomorrow, showing hope in the heart of our darkest fears.

A wonderful, moving story. Recommended - this is Grimwood at his best.
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