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3.5 out of 5 stars14
3.5 out of 5 stars
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on 18 July 2013
This is the best SF book I've read in some time. I'm surprised to see it getting so little, and at times undeservedly negative, attention from reviewers on here.

"In the Mouth of the Whale" introduces a much wider range of elements compared to the first two novels in the Quiet War series-- which basically expounded a near-ish future history of solar system colonisation, with oodles of loving descriptions of habitat designs/ecosystem engineering. Here there are stronger characters, a much stronger narrative thread (in fact three of them, initially), some refreshingly different settings-- including a gas giant and various virtual environments, besides the obligatory hollowed out asteroids-- some stunningly good descriptive passages, and a real sense of the author starting to get solidly to grips with some substantive, timeless, human themes. Tyranny, love, the extent to which we have control over our destiny, you know the kind of thing. It's not that this stuff was absent from the earlier novels, just that it's explored with a surer hand in this one. Although the book describes a much altered and splintered version of far future humanity in the unfamiliar setting of another star system, it still manages to be a thoroughly human work (The True are Us, of course). Which is not to say that it's lacking in either hard science-y stuff, or some decent action sequences (indeed, one criticism of the Quiet War might be that it was too quiet- but with the one exception mentioned below, that's not a problem here).

It's true that there are echoes from other SF authors-- gas giant-based intelligence, virtual hells and the cryptosphere-like Library were bittersweet reminders of Iain M. Banks-- and the cyberspace stuff has of course been done thoroughly elsewhere, while other passages call to mind Alistair Reynolds and Kim Stanley Robinson. In lesser hands, these echoes might make the book feel derivative, but the quality of the writing is such that these reminders are rather pleasing. It's like hearing snatches of your favourite music on a radio programme which, in itself, happens to be rather good. Somehow it all adds up to something more than the sum of its parts. If I've got one small niggle, it's the amount of time spent on Sri's early life, not all of which serves to move either the character or the story along. But that's not enough to lose this book its amply deserved five stars.

So- ignore the naysayers. Read it and enjoy. Just don't expect it to be like the other books in the series. Expect it to be more.
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on 17 May 2012
Paul McAuley has an amazing imagination and this meaty tome has a great blend of exciting characters, old friends (lots of spoilers so make sure you read The Quiet War first) and fabulous concepts. It may go on too much but this is counterbalanced by its bulging story lines and sequential threads. I look forward to reading it again in short succession to The Quiet War as I think this would be a great pair of novels for a long journey.
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on 27 January 2013
Compared to the previous entries to the "Quiet War" series, this novel was something of a disappointment, definitely nowhere near as good as McAuley's other work.

It's nominally set in the same universe as the the Quiet War series, but about a thousand years in the future. While it continues the story of one of the characters from those books (which makes it hard to understand for those who haven't read them), it's otherwise a self-contained story. It's set in a solar system where the posthuman "Quick" have been enslaved by old-school "True" humans, while the Ghosts from the Quiet War series make a reappearance.

There are three storylines: one follows a mysterious child from (apparently) the time of Greater Brazil, one follows Isak, a "True" investigator who protects a data library from age-old viruses, and Ori, a Quick slave who gets caught up in the larger conflict for the system. None of these plotlines really works, and they come together for a rather confusing and underwhelming conclusion. A lot of the worldbuilding is equally confusing, making the whole thing rather hard to follow. In particular, it's never really made clear how Isak's "exorcisms" of computer systems work- they seem to take part in a matrix-esque simulation, but quite how it works, as with much of the detail of this world, is never explained.

One final quib I have is the rather frustrating lack of information as to what happened to the solar system's civilisation after the Quiet War- there are a few vague mentions of it, but they are, like so much else, never properly explained, and it would probably have been more satisfying were this an entirely standalone novel.

In short, this novel is nowhere near as good as the excellent first two novels of the Quiet War series.
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on 17 February 2012
Having read and enjoyed The Quiet War and Gardens of the sun I was expecting a follow-on narrative which took the tensions between the different Outer factions to a different locale. What I found were three narrative streams which seemed to have little to do with the preceding novels.

One thread was related. It seemed to cover the early life of Maria-Hong Owen's daughter Sri, who became a gene wizard in the previous two books. The other two threads appear not to refer back to anything but cover the growing war for Cthuga (Fomalhaut's gas giant) and the adventures of a pair of 'cyberspace hackers' from the 'Library', who have been a chance to redeem themselves, after an earlier failure, by finding two individuals who have disappeared while on an important mission in the Library.

The 'Library' I found unconvincing. The sense of wonder at the the gene- and habitat-engineering carries over from the earlier books but the 'virtual reality' hijinks is hardly much in advance of Gibson, and feels out of place here. Who needs inner space when outer space is available as infinite, real, real estate?

All is not wonderful in this post-human world. Bottom of the heap are the Quicks,who have had humanity's worst traits gene-engineered out, but unluckily for them, this has enabled their enslavement by the True, exo-skeleton-wearing old-style humans, unfortunately still wreaking havoc with those bad old traits. The True want to confirm a hypothesis that a 'mind' inhabits Cthuga but have to defend it against a third post-human clade, the Ghosts, who have an even crazier reason for wanting it. The 'Whale' of the novel's title is a giant True construct which reaches down into Cthuga's gravity well.

All this the reader needs to piece together. What I find worrying is what someone totally new to this 'universe' is going to make of it, as I struggled. Where are the introductory 'info-dumps'? Ironically, they appear and interrupt things at the end, way too late to save newcomers to this universe who may have given up long before.

Finally, this work seems to use more cliched sf elements than the first two novels and the originality that fueled them seems not to be being extended into new areas. There is also a bleakness about it, in that freedoms won in the preceding novels seem to be on the wane again....
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on 3 February 2016
I found this book quite gripping at times but overall it was unnecessarily obscure and the largely unexplained complexities in the plot seriously detracted from my enjoyment. I see from other reviews that this book was supposedly the latest in a series. I was unaware of this when I started reading it: there is nothing on the cover or in the text to indicate this, and I had not in fact read any of McAuley's other books before . I have to say I do not feel particularly inspired to do so after this experience. I managed to sort out in my head three the three warring races of Quicks, Trues and Ghosts (though that took a little while) but what about these "demons" and the "Hells" they inhabit? Who are they, where do they come from, and what is their agenda? Are they I wonder supposed to be the original inhabitants of the world that the other three races are fighting over? Then, did I understand correctly that the pair Isak and Prem are actually killed in the simulacrum at the end but their brain-patterns were preserved in some kind of eternal and illusory living death afterwards, similar to the ancient gang-master whom they encountered earlier? That is what it sounded like but I wasn't sure. If so, it sounds like more of a "Hell" than anything those Demons inhabit. And then take "The Horse" - by far the most attractive character in the book, for my money, but is it male or female? Isak always refers to it as "he" but Ori as "she". Which is it? It doesn't especially matter which, but it is unnecessarily vexing for the author to suggest that it is both! The narrative threads of the three intertwined plots can all be enjoyed on a certain level but the overall impression was one of confusion. A shame, as it could have been a great read otherwise.
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on 23 December 2012
This is a wonderful book, almost certainly the best novel I read this year, so it's a real disappointment to see it getting such indifferent and at times stupid reviews.

I'm sorry to admit that I'm sometimes more interested in plot than quality of writing, but even I noticed how outstanding McAuley's prose is here, with descriptive passages frequently achieving real beauty and poetry. The plot is both original and ruthless: the villains of the piece, the True, are utterly vile and despicable, yet the story is largely told from their perspective. It is impossible to find any single character to wholly identify with, all the "humans" in the story are to a greater or lesser extent alien from our perspective.

This is not a warm and cosy story, you get a real sense of the vast, immeasurable depths of space, and of how in trying to navigate them we could lose our own humanity.
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on 24 April 2014
In the Mouth of the Whale is very different to The Quiet War and Gardens of the Sun, but that's important: while the book still focuses on a number of characters and their stories, the world is painted in broad strokes compared to the fine detail of the previous books, which is a smart move since it deals with a much more distant future where the technology is notably less distinguishable from magic.

The book is compelling; it consists of three stories (two of which don't rely on having read the first two books in the series, one of which is much better for having read them), and jumps between them in a way guaranteed to force you to keep reading to find out what happens next.
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on 8 July 2014
I have just finished reading 'In The Mouth of the Whale' and found it extraordinary, brilliant and captivating.
Not quite sure why some readers have not rated it as highly as previous 'Quiet War' books, but I think personally it is a fantastic continuation of the story, full of amazing imagery and dramatic plot.
McAuley's prose is beautiful at times and crystal clear, the imagery will stick in my mind for some time.
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on 5 October 2014
Imaginative storyline with beleivable characters and an ending that ties it all together
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on 18 August 2014
A fantastic read and worthy addition to the series!
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