James's Reviews > Spin State

Spin State by Chris Moriarty
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's review
May 08, 11

Read in April, 2011

I'm one of those people who re-reads books. I re-read this one a few weeks ago, and it was as good as I remembered. Back around the time this book was new, I'd had my appetite for cyberpunk re-whetted by Richard K. Morgan, and was looking around for other good authors in the genre to read. Moriarty did not disappoint. And all these years later, on rereading? I was still awake half the night just digesting all the /ideas/ Moriarty filled this world with. If you want a book with an astonishing amount of science and wow factor built in, Spin State is a good choice.

Which brings me to a second point. In Cyberpunk/Future Noir, writers tend to want to balance the overwhelming technology both inside their protagonists and out with something more human. Gibson's spacefaring Rastas are a fine (though not especially successful) example of this. Moriarty's approach was to assert that Bose-Einstein condensates - quantum-paired materials that permit quantum teleportation, and which are the backbone of her universe's economy - occur on one colony world, nestled in coal seams. The colony is a company town, and the mining is human-intensive, backbreaking coal mining. More importantly, the coal mine, the occurrence of the Bose-Einstein condensates in it, and the very human process of mining it are all integral to the plot.

Where the book fails (and it's a small failure, for which I'm docking only one star) is in trying to cram too many interesting ideas into one story. In addition to all the interesting things about Bose-Einstein condensates, quantum teleportation, coal mining, and politics, Li, the main character, is a posthuman. She's genetically engineered and hiding it, and she's a cyborg, and she's in an on-again off-again love affair with an AI. All her quantum teleportations have begun erasing her memory, which she has to restore from backups which, in turn, have been edited by the security agency she works for. It's a lot to digest all at once, and while Moriarty manages to keep Li human enough to identify with, and to move the story along, there were times when some pruning of the tree of ideas in this story might have streamlined things, and allowed Li to breathe a bit better as a character.

Or maybe I'm just jealous of the sheer smarts of this book.

Anyway, a fine read, and I'm pleased to say that Moriarty has two new books in the pipeline - a third in the Spin State series, and a fantasy book - which I'm looking forward to reading.

One other thing. Read Chris Moriarty's website(s). If you write, read her advice to writers. I recall one of her articles where she mentioned that in the process of writing /Spin State/, she realized halfway through that she was writing a spy story, so she went back to one of her favorite Le Carre books (I think it was /The Spy who Came In from the Cold/), and tore the story apart, took notes, until she understood exactly how Le Carre's first big hit really worked as a story. She then put those tools to work finishing /Spin State/, powering through the point at which she'd been stuck. This sound advice (and Le Carre's /The Looking Glass War/) served me well on my second novel.


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