Gardens of the Sun by Paul J. McAuley

462 pp
ISBN: 978-1-61614-196-7

Trade Paperback
September 2010

In this sequel to The Quiet War, the cast of characters returns with one addition: a minor character in The Quiet War grows into a more noticeable but still minor role. The story still belongs to five major players.

Dave #8, a clone in a gene enhancement experiment in building super-soldiers, was always different from his fellow clones and that difference was bound to get him killed. He found and lost his love in The Quiet War. His search for her in the second book results in his impact on the final state of affairs.

Cash Baker was a fighter/test pilot recruited to fly the new singleships. He returns from the almost dead to be cashiered out of the service when the political wheel turns. On his own, he finds that he cares about the world and becomes a major player in a resistance movement.

Macy Minnot, a microbial ecologist, stumbles into a major role in system politics attempting to fend off the forces of evil either in the form of the remnants of The Quiet War forces or the super-militant Ghosts, a segment of the Outer population that believes with zealous tunnel-vision that they are destined to become rulers of all that’s worth ruling.

Sri Hong-Owen, a gene wizard, one of the best and brightest. There were two gene wizards in her universe who exceeded her accomplishments. One was her mentor who she eliminated in The Quiet War and the other was a recluse in the Outer Worlds. Sri wants to assume her place as the best and brightest. And she does. It is her gene wizardry that saves the day and presents the logic behind the tale’s title. One might wonder when she had the time to accomplish everything she does, but, that’s a nit that only occurs to you when the tale is finished.

Loc Ifrahim, a lesser member of the former ruling party, sports the major characteristic of raw ambition, an ambition that everyone recognizes. His enemies tend to sneer at his efforts; his allies tolerate them. All his maneuvering to achieve the status he knows he deserves only gets him deeper and deeper into the political quagmire of the post-war outer worlds. In his final, greatest attempt to come out on top, he loses everything.

All five players are part of the Brazilian empire that rules the Americas on an Earth where a new political order emerged after the Overturn – an ecologic disaster that doomed the political order we all know and love. The new order boasts a European Union, a Pacific Union, and Brazil as the powers-that-are. In this segment of the tale, the two century old head of the ruling family dies throwing Brazilia into political chaos on Earth and among the forces holding the spoils of war in the Outer worlds.

Sri Hong-Owen had two sons, one she genetically modified to be more like her, the other she did not. The second son wanders through this story as the vehicle for attempted manipulation of his mother. The first son is a major factor in the spread of the insurrection.

And then there is Avernus, the gene wizard Hong-Owen wants to surpass. More than two centuries old, Avernus remains an enigmatic genius responsible for much of the life support systems in the Outer Worlds. Her skill makes her a prime political target so she goes into hiding…on Earth working with the resistance.

The folk in the Outer Worlds tend to work at the far ends of a liberal spectrum while the folk on Earth work at the far end of a conservative spectrum. The Outer Worlds’ experiments have led to life spans ranging to two hundred years and cuts to their bodies to make them individually unique. A cut can be anything from the nip-and-tuck that we are familiar with to a radical gene modification.

In order to make the distances manageable, Sri Hong-Owen’s labs, in The Quiet War, came up with a fusion motor that drives space ships at really fast speeds enabling the players to get to any place in the Solar System quick.

The first part of the story, then, is the scrambling that takes place on Earth after the death of the tyrant-in-charge of the Brazilian empire and the scrambling of the last free remnants of the Outer World to avoid destruction by their kin, the Ghosts, and the conquering force in place after The Quiet War. The other part of the story is the science that makes this future world plausible. McAuley delights in the science. I got the feeling he’d rather tell that story than the story his characters live out.

There is one bit of science I wish he had addressed: Avernus lived for a century-and-a-half in the low gravity of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Of all the characters, she is the only low-gravity person to return to Earth and she suffers no ill effect from the enormous increase in gravity.

The story his characters live out skims the plausible while relying on some startling coincidences. If you diagram this tale, the nexus between succeeding events will be more mystifying than a Klein bottle. That said, it is only after you put the tale down that the implausibilities rear their ugly heads in your mind. While you’re reading, the tale moves along at the speed of Hong-Owens’ fusion motors.

As with its predecessor, it’s a good read that rewards the perseverance to keep turning the pages. With as many loose ends that remain at story end, I suspect that there is another trip to this world in the works.

© 2010 Dan Bieger

Leave a comment