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The Quiet War by Paul J. McAuley

The Quiet War (original 2008; edition 2009)

by Paul J. McAuley

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3791628,461 (3.5)48
Title:The Quiet War
Authors:Paul J. McAuley
Collections:Read but unowned, Reviewed
Tags:Award Winner/Nominee, Fiction, io9 Book Club, Quiet War, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction

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The Quiet War by Paul McAuley (2008)

  1. 00
    Heart of the Comet by Gregory Benford (tetrachromat)
    tetrachromat: Both tell stories of how humanity uses biotechnology, specifically genetic engineering, to construct habitats and survive in space.

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Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
Not as good as 'Gardens of the Sun.' The reason for the war between Earth and the Outers was really contrived. Last 50 pages or so was a ho-hum type of battle. ( )
  skraft001 | Feb 23, 2013 |
Paul McAuley has been on my “I really should read something by that guy some time” list for quite a while now, and now I finally got around to it. He’s been around for a while and apparently quite versatile, writing, among other things, alternative history and near future thrillers. The Quiet War (which was on the shortlist for the Arthur C. Clarke award in 2009) is space opera – not so much the pulpy Golden Age variant of E.E. Smith but the contemporary variant that was started off by C.J. Cherryh with her Downbelow Station and that aims for more realism and psychological depth.

Unusual even for the modern version of the genre (and one, although not the only, reason why the book is titled as it is) there is only a single space battle in this novel, and even that is very small in scale, involving only three fighters and the automated self defense system of an asteroid. Which does not mean that the “small, quiet war” (as it once called by one of its main instigators) does not cost any lives, quite to the contrary - but those are mostly civilians, acting to defend their homes or even outright executed, and in that sense the novel’s title is a cutting sarcasm.

The war itself is also very brief: It only takes up about the final fifth of the novel, while its main bulk is dedicated to the political shuffling and military intrigue paving the way towards the eventual outbreak of open conflict, attempts to maintain peace becoming more and more desperate as war appears increasingly inevitable. The forces arraigned against each other are an Earth ruled by dictatorships and the grass-root democracies of the Outer Planets of the Solar system. While it is quite clear which faction has the author’s sympathies, McAuley does not paint the Outers of unblemished paragons of all that’s good – among the widely varying societies and their lifestyles colonising the moons of Saturn and Jupiter there are many that are just as repressive and as disregarding of their members’ happiness and wellbeing as any dictatorship, and neither are the Outers in general immune to intolerance.

Nuanced characterisation is generally one of the strong points of The Quiet War, and that applies not just to the various factions but also to individual protagonists. A good example (and my favourite point of view character) is Sri Hong-Owen, a genius scientist who becomes a puppet in the political scheming between factions vying for power in her home nation of Greater Brazil. But while she herself continues to perceive herself as an innocent victim who is only interested in pursuing her science, it gradually is shown to the reader that she is willing to go to absolutely any length to realise her own goals, and that those have a lot more to do with satisfying her own vanity than with furthering science.

The writing, if not brilliant, is at least solid; there are some very impressive vistas of places where humanity has carved out a niche for itself in the Solar system’s moons and McAuley is very good at describing the helplessness of living in a dictatorship where one’s very existence hangs on the whim of the powerful or the atmosphere in a city under siege where slowly but inexorably paranoia and mob rule take over. In general, and that is probably its greatest strength, The Quiet War succeeds very well in making the reader feel what it would be like to live out in space, where the environment is unforgivingly lethal and a small carelessness or a minor freak accident can be fatal, but where humanity rises to the challenge and realises its full potential. Which, everything considered, is a very Golden Age attitude after all.
2 vote Larou | Jan 31, 2012 |
McAuley takes a handful of common themes in science fiction—an Earth rebuilding after some (unspecified) disaster, genetic engineering, cyberpunk-ish type dystopias, conflict between Earth and her colonies—and melds them together into a piece of social and political science fiction that feels creative and new.

There is a strong thread of hard science fiction in this story, not suprising given that McAuley was a biologist by profession. At times, this makes for a few daunting pages as the genetic engineers discuss the environments they've created but he was smart enough to keep the narrative from depending upon those details; the story moves on smoothly whether they make sense or not.

I think this book would appeal to fans of Stephen Donaldson's "Gap" series, Neil Stephenson's The Diamond Age, or some of Cherryh's social science fiction, though I'm not sure how much it would attract those who are only marginal about the genre. I'm looking forward to picking up the sequel in this two-part story. ( )
1 vote TadAD | Aug 8, 2010 |
In this sweeping novel of conflict between a future Earth where authoritarian governments are still pulling things together after a post-ecological collapse and a "Belter" civilization reaching towards a post-human state; one follows five point-of-view characters: 1. A clone warrior raised from conception to be a military tool. 2. A hot-shot pilot who is remade to cybernetically bond with his ship. 3. An imperious "gene wizard" who seeths over being treated as being little more than the hired help of the aristocratic family she serves. 4. An ecological engineer who finds herself forever on the run due a gut-level unwillingness to play other people's games. 5. An on-the-make diplomat/spy who is driven to distraction over his inability to finish off the engineer.

I like this novel a great deal and think it's one of the best hard SF stories I've read in awhile, but that you have so many POV characters running around but all essentially from the same society (Greater Brazil) does seem a little problematic at times. One might like a little more perspective from a character from another of the Terran states, or from the outer-planet society they seek to bring to heel. It's about the only thing that I'm marking this novel down for. ( )
  Shrike58 | Apr 28, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
This novel is one of the best SF novels of the past couple of years. It is fullthroatedly SFnal, distinctly "hard."
added by sdobie | editSF Site, Rich Horton (Dec 1, 2009)
Though flawed, The Quiet War makes you want more precisely because there's so much promise in its primary characters and settings. McAuley makes science incredibly exciting, and you'll have his weird images and ideas in your brain for days after you put the book down. War may not have been the best plot device to get this story in motion, but the vacuum organisms and communes on Uranus make this a novel well worth your time.
added by PhoenixTerran | editio9, Annalee Newitz (May 6, 2009)
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Twenty-third century Earth, ravaged by climate change, looks backwards to the holy ideal of a pre-industrial Eden. Political power has been grabbed by a few powerful families and their green saints. Millions of people are imprisoned in teeming cities; millions more labour on Pharaonic projects to rebuild ruined ecosystems. On the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, the Outers, descendants of refugees from Earth's repressive regimes, have constructed a wild variety of self-sufficient cities and settlements: scientific utopias crammed with exuberant creations of the genetic arts; the last outposts of every kind of democratic tradition. The fragile detente between the Outer cities and the dynasties of Earth is threatened by the ambitions of the rising generation of Outers, who want to break free of their cosy, inward-looking pocket paradises, colonise the rest of the Solar System, and drive human evolution in a hundred new directions. On Earth, many demand pre-emptive action against the Outers before it's too late; others want to exploit the talents of their scientists and gene wizards. Amid campaigns for peace and reconciliation, political machinations, crude displays of military might, and espionage by cunningly wrought agents, the two branches of humanity edge towards war.… (more)

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