Just Finished Reading: Red Dust by Paul J McAuley
After 500 years of Chinese occupation Mars is dying. With the Emperor in his sprawling Virtual Reality construct his Representatives left behind vie for power. Slowly, a grinding Civil War driven by greed and backed by the Peoples Army grinds the peasants into red dust. But the forces dedicated to the death of Mars are opposed by the Anarchists living in orbit around Jupiter. For centuries they have attempted to seed Mars with nano-viruses to accelerate the melting of the permafrost allowing the release of billions of tons of water into the environment changing the face of Mars forever. Some of these viruses have infected the population – amongst them Wei Lee, an Environmental engineer. As they enhance his abilities and direct his actions he becomes the catalyst for a planet wide revolution which aims to open Mars to a future amongst the stars. Aided by the avatar of an anarchist soldier and his hero Elvis Presley, Wei Lee makes his way across the Martian landscape towards Olympus Mons - the centre of Imperial power. Everything is riding on Lee’s new abilities and the companions he’s acquired along the way.
At first this book was a bit of a struggle to get into because it was so off-the-wall. But once I got my head around the often strange and fascinating world invented by the author it became a delight. Populated by a rich cast of characters – both goodies and badies – this was basically a multi-layered quest novel. Wei Lee is not only trying to save his planet but also trying to uncover his own personal history. With the help of his virus induced avatars he soon discovers that his life has been manipulated even before he was born and because of that knowledge transcends his ‘design’ and becomes an individual in the process. Although I wouldn’t classify this as hard SF in the scientific sense it is brimming with advanced technology and discuses many aspects of science in at least superficial detail. Covering diverse subjects such as genetic engineering, nanotechnology, terra-forming, virtual reality, AI and much else besides this is a rich, deep, multi-faceted and above all adult science-fiction novel that rewards the patience of anyone who sticks with the first few chapters. Recommended.