kw: book reviews, science fiction, far future fiction, space opera, cyborgs, golems, androids, terraforming
Chris Moriarty is prone to leaving as much as he can to a reader's imagination and inference. For me, it is on the boundary between refreshing and irritating. Usually, when I can't figure out what his novel's characters just figured out, I get it within a page or two, sometimes because Moriarty explains, sometimes because my slow brain catches on.
Spin Control follows his successful novel "Spin State" with an equally readable, even more idea-packed story. The genre is hard science, far enough in the future that it verges on fantasy, but Moriarty has done his homework, and the technicalities are not-too-wild extrapolations of current trends and speculations.
Some four centuries hence, the human race has taken charge of its own evolution, and taken computing close to quantum limits, to produce a number of "near relatives" with various amounts of integrated machinery, from AIs of several kinds, to Golems (cyborgs with no childhood), to the all-biological but engineered products of several "syndicates", and at least one "Emergent AI" who has "lived" on the delicate edge of growth and destruction for a few centuries, partly due to its being "shunted" to a series of rented human bodies. Other AIs, that control groups of shunted human "volunteers" such as military squads, are found to be most stable when kept ignorant of what they are really doing, by being deceived that they are playing an elaborate game with really good virtuality; once one of these figures out what it is really doing, it promptly suicides...or is that self-destructs?
While many recent books have scene shifts nearly every page, thus resembling episodes of modern TV soap operas, each chapter in Spin Control has a venue and a cast, usually all centered on Arkady, the protagonist here. The chapters' scenes hang together better than those in most novels. Arkady is an A-level clone produced by the Rostov Syndicate. He is more victim than protagonist, only finding out what he was really sent to do in the closing pages of the novel.
Arkady begins by defecting from the Ring (space colonies in the synchronous orbit) to Earth. He'd previously been on a terraforming team to the well-kept-secret planet Novalis. Early survey and seeding probes had visited, and ten clones form four syndicates were sent to see how well the process is going. Seems it was going much too well, and some trouble ensued that Arkady doesn't know how to parse...yet. One result was a new kind of virus that enhances fertility, if that's all it does. Earth really needs that, because the population has crashed to the point that most people are walking ghosts—infertile and unlikely ever to reproduce.
Of course, there is more to it than that, and Arkady becomes a much coveted, much abused pawn in a high-stakes bidding war. It takes the long-lived Emergent AI Cohen and an old memory in a young commando to bring about the denouement: one really nasty character is eliminated, and the long-deceived military AIs learn not only what they are doing, but enough of what has kept Cohen alive, to take appropriate control of their own fates.
I like a hopeful ending...even if it is a setup for more sequels!