Nutshell: how-to manual that recommends radical luddite social restructuring in order to defeat slave uprising.
Abandons chaucerian structure of first installment and instead alternates between first-person and third person bits. Opening places narration at center of setting (barf) by popping first person narrator adjacent to president. This centralizing of narration is raised to an affirmative law of science fiction here, via repeated quotation of Yeats, and through the proclamation that “right now we have an obligation to be where things are happening” (327).
Love that Simmons catches one of the stupidities of modern science fiction: “Even the spate of recent war [films] showed great fleets battling it out at distances two ground soldiers would find claustrophobic, ships ramming and firing and burning like Greek triremes packed into the straits of Artemisium” (73), which nicely captures how Star Wars
and Star Trek
are just Napoleonic warfare with rayguns. It’s not like we see a well-described alternative in this story, though when stellar distances regarding combat are noted, it’s usually presented in terms of AU, so the distinction is implicit.
We are given a neo-Marinetti, who avers that “warfare is on the threshold of becoming an art form” (105).
Not sure what the big deal about the Shrike has been the whole time. The resolution of that strand is fairly silly. Conceptually, it’s annoying: apparently it’s part of a far future contest between humans and AIs sent back in time to find something for the human end of the conflict. It’s all very nebulous and juvenile.
As though I weren’t annoyed enough by the ruling class protagonist, when that protagonist receives perspectival chapters, they are coy, such as when “All she had to do to save a hundred billion lives was return to the Senate floor, reveal three decades of deception and duplicity” (153), but without informing the reader what the deception and duplicity happen to be. This is simply unpardonable faux suspense. Why use the rhetorical sleight of popping the narration on the president of the galaxy, and then give ersatz access? It’s just not effective.
Amusing moment when lyrical computer machine explains the entire macroplot, noting that “we constructed your civilization carefully so that like hamsters in a cage like Buddhist prayer wheels each time you turn your little wheels of thought our purposes are served” (282), which is just taking Douglas Adams and playing him straight (Earth-as-computer was destroyed both times, NB).
Still a very cool setting overall, packed with plenty of more crap about poet Keats. Am pleased to have my hypothesis confirmed that AIs as part of story will produce an AI rebellion.
Recommended for those rich in resurrection insurance, readers who desire a cleansing fire when the forest has been stunted and allowed to grow diseased by overplanning, and people who scribble graffiti on outhouse walls.