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3.6 out of 5 stars
The Quiet War (Gollancz)
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 18 May 2009
McAuley returns to the harder end of the SF range with this expansive and complex novel. The story unfolds on a big scale - it offers heady thrills and exciting set pieces - but as ever with McAuley the real success of the book is down to the powerful and precise characterizations. Stories live or die with how much you care about characters, and the people here, for all their posthuman wonders, are utterly believable and true. Few writers succeed at the macro and micro as well as McAuley. His best novel since White Devils and his best pure SF book since Fairyland.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 29 October 2009
There is not much to say about this novel, not because it is bad but because it is extremely good. In fact there is nothing to find fault with. The setting is the solar system, after Earth has been devastated by global warming, and is beginning to rebuild, while thriving colonies have been established on the moons of Saturn and Jupiter.

All sounds idyllic but it is not. Earlier, colonists from the Moon fled to Jupiter and Saturn after the colony on Mars was nuked by China. Earth is now controlled by three power blocs, Greater Brazil, the European Union and the Pacific Community. All are run by powerful families who squabble behind the scenes. The poor live in overcrowded cities, denied access to the regenerating countryside. Science is fostered, but mainly to create weapons, sometimes involving brutal biological and psychological re-structuring of people.

In stark contrast, the descendants of the Moon colonists, known as the Outers, live in free communities, run by continuous e-ballots. They delve into the physical and biological sciences, especially genetic engineering, to improve their technologies and bodies and to spread new forms of life by creating new ecosystems on previously sterile moons. The 'Quiet War', a low-intensity conflict with little all out fighting, deliberately engineered by factions in Greater Brazil, breaks out after a reconciliation mission to build an Earth-like habitat on Callisto is sabotaged.

On one hand the novel succeeds as a classic space opera, with a militaristic regime trying to control freedom-loving individualists. There is plenty of action, from a ground assault on a domed city to balletic space battles, using clever weapons and some effective 'dumb' ones, like asteroids used as missiles. Heinlein would be proud. On the other hand, this is very 'modern' science fiction, with subtle insights into politics, very well drawn characters on both sides, awe inspiring new science, like organisms adapted to life in a vacuum on cold, dead moons and beautiful, poetic descriptions of vistas on the various moons and planets. This book is a perfect blend of a mainstream novel with a rigorous approach to science fiction.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 October 2013
I really wanted to enjoy this book, especially when people cited it as excellent classic sci-fi. However, it was so painfully slow. There are paragraphs - nay, pages - of waffling, pseudo-scientific guff that amounted to nothing, informed me of nothing, and really spoiled the flow when characters were interacting. I have to confess before I expand, I didn't finish the book. I couldn't. I got to part 2, reached chapter 2, and gave up. It's something quite a few science-fiction writers suffer from; it's almost patronising. They learn all this science and then implement it into the story as if they're trying to show off how much they know and if you can't follow you're not as smart as me. Perhaps that's not their intention but sometimes that's how it feels. Yes I know it's SCIENCE-fiction, but we want the science to exist to serve the story not restrict it. Also, I'm not really fond of politics in science-fiction, since it's so overdone and easy to write but somehow manages to masquerade as intelligent literature. If you want to read this book, don't be afraid to skip as many useless paragraphs as you like. It seems the author wanted to make the book as big as possible.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 5 August 2013
An excellent dystopian science fiction novel. It is set in a future where the earth has been devastated by global warming & subsequent social & political upheavals, many humans have left earth to settle on the outer planets & moons of the solar system. These two principle groupings; the Outers and the Earth are on a collision course. The underpinning science is genetic manipulation but this is only superficially explained and serves really as a backdrop and theme to ponder on rather than a detailed exploration of the pros & cons. Of course (as is always the case with good science fiction) the political game playing reflects 21st century pseudo-democracy and political spin. The characterisation is patchy - some are reasonably fully formed but some are a little thin and underdeveloped although this is probably to be expected given the large cast of characters. There are some set piece chase & battle scenes that are quite effective and overall it reminded me of classic science fiction of the 60s / 70s.
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on 6 October 2010
Having grown up reading loads of SciFi as a teen, especially stories from the 1960s and 1970s - Dick, Asimov et al - I always enjoyed the way those writers managed to depict future societies, which, whilst superficially changed and evolved, still have to deal with the eternal human dilemma: obsessions, greed, envy, and pride amongst others.

Then there is of course the history that `is yet to happen', often only touched at, but nonetheless an essential ingredient that needs fleshing out and to be credible nonetheless: wars, discoveries and disasters which, from the future's perspective might be old hats - to us they are scary/great things to come. Good SciFi novels only touch on those, outline them but make them an essential part of the story nonetheless.

Personally, I find science fiction set in 10 or 20 years from now rather limiting; and stories set millennia from now also useless, unless they are fantasy which takes them to a different genre. (There are exceptions of course: Starmaker by Olaf Stapledon is an absolute classic in that respect as is A Canticle For Leibovitz by Walter M Miller Jr, not to forget all the amazing novels by Alfred Bester.)

The Quiet War manages to portray a world which is both credible and fantastic: Set in 2210, ecological disasters have pretty much destroyed the (our) fin-de-milléniaire world, and Brazil, the EU and the `Pacific Community' are the three remaining Orwellian/Green power blocks. Society is extremely hierarchical, led by families which `established' themselves during the `Overturn', McAuley's term for the paradigm shift. Then there are the Outers, who have colonised the moons and satellites of Saturn and Jupiter. The central theme is about the inevitability of war between the two factions - old, conservative Earth and the Free Cities of Saturn and Jupiter.

The story combines a cast of well-rounded characters, who, being somewhat close to archetypes still come of as credible and human (never mind that their biology has more often than not been `cut', ie genetically engineered.) Technology in the book is all about biological progress (McAuley is a trained biologist and it shows), and this is the other central theme - how does humanity survive the entropy of its own making if not by `playing God' and therefore messing things up even further?

The scenery, mostly set on Jovian/Saturnian moonscapes, is incredibly imaginative, the descriptions succinct yet there's enough room to fill in the colours oneself. Also, I'd really love to go to Brasilia one day, always found that particular place very interesting, having been built, as it happened, with idealised intentions in the 1960s; in the story it has become the centre of power on Earth...

Two points of critique: One is the character of Loc Ifrahim, an extremely aspirational diplomat, who is a bit of a cartoon character, providing comic relief where none is required. The other point is Avernus, a more than 200 year old `gene wizard' (which unnecessarily ties her to our own time), who appears a little bit two dimensional. Saying that, these two shortcomings are minor, and do not hinder one to fully enjoy this book which is the kind of clever and contemporary SciFi I'd love to be able to write.
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on 11 December 2012
I wonder if this was a conscious attempt to write a Genesis for Dan Simmons' Hyperion universe? Consider the similarities: genetically modified Outers (albeit in the outer solar system, rather than the outer reaches of the galaxy), a resurgent Catholic Church, primitive AI's, even possible messages from the future. If so, it's not a bad attempt - a good premise, some believable characters and plenty of action. However, the weakness for me was the frequently repeated "inevitability" of the war itself, at least in the 23rd century. Surely an Earth recovering from ecological and economic melt-down, where Greenness is the new Conservative, is likely to turn its back on space travel beyond Earth orbit for several generations, maybe even for centuries. The Outers would be remembered vaguely as some sort of extra-terrestrial monsters. Pressure to expand would only restart once recovery was complete and there was renewed demand for platinum and palladium from the Asteroid Belt.

McAuley is a biologist and doesn't hesitate to include some real science, which I heartily applaud, but as a chemist I wish he had let a chemist friend read through the book prior to publication - I spotted a couple of howlers - and maybe a physicist as well.

But for all that I enjoyed the book and plan to read the sequel, which I see gets a much better star rating, which is promising!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
It's hard for SF writers to pitch it just right. Some technologies seem to come out of nowhere and turn everything upside down in an instant.
Autonomous fighting drones will be with us very soon and so rendered a third of the plot irrelevant. The notion of piloted fighters seemed quaint.
Apart from that I couldn't engage with the characters. None of them really came off the page.
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on 17 July 2012
The book is fantastic, the narrative is great and the stories are very thrilling. It follows a number of characters and the sheer amount of science makes everything believable to the point where you are so excited by the prospects outline in the book that you would rather fast forward a few hundred years until they would have eventually materialised in reality.

The main story revolves around the tumultuous relationship between Earth and the Outers (humans who have fled the Earth in search of better environments on other planetary satellites). Personally I felt drawn to the parts that detailed the way in which the Outers lived. They has spawn satellites like Calisto, Titan, Europa, Phoebe, and on each of these the human inhabitants had evolved to both their surrounding and to their passions.

It is a fantastic painting of the future of mankind and the individual stories a gripping, action-packed and very satisfying.

All in all I would recommend it as one of my favourites for being able to unshackle a great deal of my imagination.
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on 31 October 2009
I really liked this one, and when I was finished, still wished it had more to go. Obviously, there is, but I still think some of the characters could have been developed more.

Still, this is one of the better extrapolations of our possible future. I hope that if we reach the point reached in this book that we are able to have somewhere along the way found more time to use some of our wondrous abilities in the cause of providing better for those who have the least.

The world having reached a tipping point in our environment is to my mind extremely realistically portrayed.

A wonderful read. I am just now getting ready to read the next book, and wanted to say the above before my opinion was colored by having read it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 26 February 2014
This is a book that starts slow and then never gets going. Confused barely connected parallel plots that frustrate any attempt of building a coherent story. Pages upon pages lacking any purpose or sense of urgency.
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