August 17, 2017

Review: Gardens of the Sun by Paul McAuley.

Out in March from Pyr Books!
Out in March from Pyr Books!
    It was with great anticipation and excitement that we finally got to dig into our advanced reading copy of Gardens of the Sun  by Paul McAuley, out March 23, 2010 courtesy of Pyr BooksGardens picks up where last years’ first opus, The Quiet War, left off, and fans of the series will not be disappointed. The near-future battle for the ultimate direction of humanity spans the solar system as the Three Powers Alliance of Earth struggles to consolidate its hold on the Jovian and Saturnian systems, while the decimated Outers flee into the depths of the exterior solar system. Mr. McAuley smartly interlaces the saga with hard science straight from the databases of the Voyager, pioneer, Galileo and Cassini flybys of the giant worlds. The union of hard science and good story telling is one that harkens back to such greats as Arthur C. Clarke or Asimov; the author has obviously done his homework.

Alternate cover for the British edition.

Alternate cover for the British edition.

 In their exploits to establish a new settlement, the Outers initially reconnoiter the Uranian moons until being ferreted out by the Alliance, Pluto (they’re the third party to set foot on Charon), and finally Neptune. I thought it was amusing that Pluto was described as “Mars-like” in appearance; a recent press release actually affirms this conjecture! Perhaps the New Horizons flyby in 2015 will add to the richness and lore of this little understood mini-system of worlds…

A recently released image of Pluto! (Credit: NASA/HST).

A recently released image of Pluto. (Credit: NASA/HST).

The drama spans nearly all worlds in the solar system, including Earth. It would have been intriguing to have set more action in the Oort Cloud or the Kuiper belt, but perhaps the author wisely opted out of expanding upon worlds yet to be visited lest the series become dated by new information.

Once in the Neptunian system,  the Outers encounter a new player in the cosmic drama, the Ghosts, an egmatic religious cult of genetic tinkerers that believes their ultimate destiny lies around the star Beta Hydrus, a Sun-like star 24 light years distant (minor point of terminology; the genitive of the southern constellation Hydrus, not to be confused with Hydra, is frequently given as Hydri; a tiny point, we know, but this is an astronomy blog… )

iapetus2_cassini

The bizarre, two-faced walnut world of Iapetus. (Credit: NASA/Cassini/JPL). 

The plight of the Ghosts explains several mysterious events that occurred at the height of The Qiuet War, such as the slab of ice that decimated the squatters on a tiny Saturnian moon at the height of the conflict. The Ghosts prove themselves to be quite the opportunists, using negotiation when it suits their needs and taking advantage of unrest on Earth to launch a daring assault. As with The Quiet War, action ultimately climaxes in the Saturnian system as Macy Minnot races back to Iapetus with a sureptiously frozen Loc Ifrahim to try and head off a confrontation with the Ghosts inbound fleet.

haumea_nasa

Haumea; Nephele’s twin? (NASA/Artist’s conception)

 The drama of Gardens of the Sun is expertly interspersed with political intrigue and first class science. The author’s background as a research biologist is evident as he shows us what new forms man may take, as well as the ramifications that may occur once we’ve mastered control of our own genome. Even as the Outers carve out a tiny new home on the fictional Centaur asteroid Nephele, they know that their ultimate destiny lies elsewhere, and that persecution will always chase them throughout the solar system. Ultimately, they depart for a millennia long journey out to the star Fomalhaut, surrounded by a debris ring (“We don’t care about planets…” quips gene wizard Sri Hong-Owen) about 25 light-years distant. Again, this is based on real science, as the Hubble Space Telescope has imaged just such a ring. Of course, we may have to wait a century or so to have the capabilities on the ultra-long baseline telescope cloud stretching from Saturn to Uranus mentioned in Gardens

We fully recommend Gardens of the Sun as a first rate space opera that melds science, politics and fast paced action. A worthy sequel of this series could easily span those hinted future millennia much like Olaf Stapledon’s The Last and First Men or the Dune franchise… be sure to get in on the The Quiet War saga from the ground floor!

Humanities next stop; Fomalhaut? (Credit: NASA/HST).

Humanities’ next stop; Fomalhaut? (Credit: NASA/HST).

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