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Red Dust (1993)

de Paul J. McAuley

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213295,205 (3.36)8
A science fiction adventure story set on a terraformed Mars in the far future from the award-winning author of 'Eternal Light'.

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My reactions to reading this novel in 2004.

The back cover of this novel quotes a Locus reviews stating that it walks a line between seriousness and parody and mentions the name of Edgar Rice Burroughs. That's all true.

There is an attempt to evoke a sort of Burroughsian Martian romance here since, like Barsoom, McAuley's Mars is dying and the enslaved "humans", actually little more than biological tools for an artificial intelligence, of the lamasery reminded me of the corrupt priests in the parts of the Barsoom series I've read. Sailing on the seas of dust also reminded me of the anti-gravity ships of Burroughs' series.

As a sort of taxonomic exercise, it is interesting to see how many sub-genres of sf have been cross-bred to produce this book. As well as the sections with a Burroughs flavor, one is reminded of Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light for no other reason than, at one point, protagonist Wei Lee is referred to as the Lord of Light. The off-world presence of the beloved dj/singer the King of Cats -- an Elvis simulacra that evolved from personality simulations put in self-replicating Jupiter probes to better handle data streams -- is reminiscent of the title figure from Philip K. Dick's Dr. Bloodmoney. There is more than a little cyberpunk here in the sense that we have artificial intelligences, telepresence used by machines and ais, "eidolons". Certainly, many stories have been written since William Gibson's Neuromancer in 1984 that have used cyberspace (here called "information space") as a fantasy land. Here, the climactic struggle of Wei Lee and the Miriam Makepeace Gaia has them battling as dragon avatars. The idea god like entities, ais, hanging around in "information space" is reminiscent of the loas in William Gibson's Mona Lisa Overdrive. Nanotechnology was in full swing as a sf motif when McAuley wrote this book, and I find it interesting that he doesn't call it nanotech but "fullerene viruses".

The parodic tone comes in with the Elvis ais and, especially, when the Jesus Christ and Elvis simulacras show up at the end to talk to Lee from their pink Cadillac. The section with the Free Yankees hunting the mammoth dust rays was somewhat reminiscent of whaling and Herman Melville's Moby Dick but even more of buffalo hunts by Amerindians.

I did find it interesting that this book, which in interviews McAuley called his "romantic" Mars book a la Edgar Rice Burroughs and Ray Bradbury, shares a political and thematic point of view with his hard sf, realistic The Secret of Life. Both preach the virtues of eliminating commercial and political impediments to information flow. McAuley generally takes a more bemused -- and, I think, effective propaganda-wise -- look at politics here. Lee's friend Xiao Bing goes to the big city and gets infatuated with dissidents who preach the virtues of social Darwinism and chide him for being polite and appear to be as dogmatic and heartless as the allegedly democratic capitalism of the Chinese government on Mars. (The descendants of the original American settlers -- America seemingly lost a war to China -- and imported Tibetan laborers make up the underclass.) Other political rebels can be rather heartless too.

However, part of this is, even more than the free flow of information, due to the central theme of the book: change is essential, stasis is undesirable and death. Lee says there are many sorts of death. The controlled monks of the lamasery are one such and one welcomes death when Lee destroys their computer master. Lee says the lifestyle of the Free Yankees can not be preserved. In order to save it, it must be altered. Further evidence of this is the metaphor of life experiences accreting like layers of an onion. The onion changes but preserves something of the old. (The personality copy of Lee at novel's end says he has changed. The three settlers in the almost deserted town on the slopes of Tiger Mountain (really Olympus Mons -- understandably few authors of Martian sf who knew about it can resist the allure of setting at least a scene or two there) realize they can not maintain their lifestyle so go out struggling. Another political aspect of the novel is how Chen Yao, a young girl who also has the avatar of a virus encoded personality in her, constantly urges Lee to ruthlessly sacrifice the lives of others to attain his destiny -- saving a dying Mars by bringing down the planetary defenses which prevent comets bearing water from crashing into the planet. She reluctantly admits, when frightened, that she never really was very good as a god.

The anti-biotech Luddites of The Secret of Life are presaged here by all of Earth's population retreating to the solipsistic environment of a completely virtual existence and turning their back on a living Mars and space exploration. This retreat is reminiscent of James Gunn's The Joy Makers, Michael Swanwick's Vacuum Flowers (1987), and Charles Platt's The Silicon Man (1991).

There are some problems in this amazingly fecund novel. Lee says at the climax he is tired of being manipulated by others, serving others' ends. While many try to use him as a tool, most of the attempts to manipulate him are unsuccessful. His failing to give in to Chen Yao's ruthless urgings is part of that. I also didn't understand the necessity (or its significance) of the manipulation of Lee (and his siblings) genome. I also thought McAuley brook up the narrative flow with the odd backfilling in the scene with the settlers on Tiger Mountain. I did like the asides on the asteroid cultures. McAuley was to develop similar ideas in his Quiet War series.

All in all, a pretty good book and definitely a worthy Mars novel. ( )
  RandyStafford | Mar 9, 2014 |
Paul J. McAuley's brilliant Red Dust weaves and blends elements of cyberpunk, planetary romance, and hard SF into a virtually flawless epic. One of the best reads I've encountered in a very long time.

http://infinityparadox.blogspot.com ( )
  Move_and_Merge | Aug 3, 2006 |
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Nom de l'autorCàrrecTipus d'autorObra?Estat
McAuley, Paul J.autor primaritotes les edicionsconfirmat
Burns, JimAutor de la cobertaautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Jacobus, TimAutor de la cobertaautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat

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A science fiction adventure story set on a terraformed Mars in the far future from the award-winning author of 'Eternal Light'.

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