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Cowboy Angels

3.33  ·  Rating details ·  471 ratings  ·  88 reviews
America, 1984 - not our version of America, but an America that calls itself the Real. For ten years, in the name of democracy, the Real has been waging clandestine wars and fomenting revolution. But the human and political costs have proven too high, and new President Jimmy Carter has called an end to war.
Paperback, 408 pages
Published 2008 by Orion Publishing Group (first published 2007)
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Average rating 3.33  · 
Rating details
 ·  471 ratings  ·  88 reviews

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Jan 18, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I started this sort of randomly. I mean, I certainly intended to read it next, but I was on my way to the bathroom (tmi?) and saw it sitting there on my desk and just sort of brought it along. Then we had more than a foot of snow dumped on us so I kept reading. I don’t know what it is about the novel that prompted me to keep reading. I think that it had something to do with the sort-of wearied spy/two old soldiers talking dialogue early in the novel. There is a certain undeniable attraction to t ...more
Peter Tillman
This is a pretty good parallel-universes novel that seems to be a standalone (note 1). It opens with a fast-moving murder-mystery plus chase-scenes cum buddy-movie stuff between two former Company wet-work agents, one of whom is on a mass-murder spree (with an sfnal twist). This ends badly for the murderer, and the protag's bosses aren't likable either. And(view spoiler) ...more
Alan Zendell
Oct 17, 2011 rated it did not like it
At a recent science fiction writers panel someone asked why we avoid discussing alternate universes. The answer, as exemplified in spades by this book, was that it's almost impossible to tell a coherent, interesting story once you open that door. "Cowboy Angels" is an orgy of chaotic nonsense. I found it impossible to follow either the logic or the thread of the story, if, in fact, either actually exists. And the physics of quantum theory? Let's not even go there.

What's worse, the characters are
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Cowboy Angels by Paul McAuley.

Cowboy Angels by Paul McAuley combines the genre of alternate history with thriller writing. The Real is an America where Alan Turing created the theories which led to gates to alternate histories called Turing gates. There are some wonderfully dry thoughts on Schrodinger's Cat in association with the Turing gates.

This is Paul McAuley's best book. I like the main character Adam Stone, an orphan who is recruited into the CIA to change the course of different alternat
Feb 19, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: x2011-12-season
Parallel Universes - Good.
Time Travel - Also Good.
Time Travel between Parallel Universes - More beer please.

McAuley's novel pulls a Reece's two great tastes that taste great together. Its an unusual pairing considering the paradoxes involved with each and the narrative problems that they create, but the problems are handled well and woven into the story naturally enough not to be boringly expository.
The multiverse he creates is original enough to be distinct without being pointlessly, flippantl
Walter Underwood
Dec 26, 2012 rated it did not like it
Kind of Tom Clancy meets the quantum multiverse with a jab at US imperialism. But if you are going to write about multiple universes, you have to get the little facts right because those are the clues to the differences. And there is no universe where Canadian bacon is crispy and where the IHOP syrup is in aluminum carafes. Those are stainless steel or glass.

I think the intention was to explore the whims and uncontrollability of chance, but it turned out to be mostly about clandestine ops, tortu
Mar 29, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: sci-fi
It felt like it dragged on forever. Some really interesting characters and settings that never really amounted to much. It was a very interesting premise. It just felt slow, even in the action scenes. There was also a couple threads that had potential and went nowhere.
Mar 28, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Steely-eyed adepts in tradecraft
Recommended to Alan by: Uchronia (, I think...
Man, this thing was like crack cocaine to me—a fast, hard hit that I could hardly put down, over too soon and, in retrospect, probably not all that good for me.

In this fast-paced novel, alternate universes are real—and in this one, the "Real" (so-called) got there first, opening the first Turing Gate (named after Alan Turing, natch, after he defected to the States) in 1969.

Unfortunately, the Real's crosstime operations are run by the Company, an outfit made up of those same unimaginative gung-ho
Andy Love
Mar 18, 2012 rated it did not like it
I had high hopes for this book - I was expecting a deep and interesting exploration of foreign intervention and how it affects the intervening and the intervened-upon, through the book's conceit that one version of America is intervening in the affairs of various alternate Americas. The fact that the version that does the intervening called itself "The Real" seemed like a good sign for the book, but the book was instead a lengthy (and violent) spy-chase thriller, with only a few moments of inter ...more
Judd Karlman
I am a sucker for the cynical special forces agent who has realized that the government they have killed for has gone too far or the deadly-man-who-regrets-killing. Richard K. Morgan rocks this archetype in the Takeshi Kovacs novels and hits it again in Black Man.

Cowboy Angels has a rocking premise with all kinds of fun alternate history toys to play with but it drags on and takes too long to solve the damned mystery. I wanted that moment when the protagonist has all of the pieces and its time t
Chris King Elfland's 2nd Cousin
Jun 07, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of Alternate History, Spy Thriller Fans
NOTE: This review first appeared at The King of Elfland's 2nd Cousin on June 7, 2011. If you enjoy it, please check out the blog!

I first came across Paul McAuley's work sometime in the mid-to-late '90s with his genetic cyberpunk (genepunk? I've always thought this should be a term) masterpiece Fairyland . Since then, I've always kept my eyes open for new McAuley novels and have found far more hits than misses among them. While his books span a variety of sub-genres (space opera, alternate
Apr 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Cowboy Angels
Author: Paul McAuley
Publisher: Prometheus Books
Published In: Amherst, NY
Date: 2011
Pgs: 363


Alternate worlds. Alternate Americas. Just a gate crossing away. Turing Gates opened the multiverse to America. The Real, the first America to open the gates, has used the technology to infiltrate a variety of Americas, rebuilding nuclear wracked ones, freeing the communist or fascist ruled, and creating a Pan-American Alliance bringing alternate Americas toge
Apr 18, 2020 rated it it was ok
It's a shame that this book didn't really do much for me. The premise - an alternate US discovers a way to build gateways to other timelines in the 1960s and ends up doing imperialist coups on other versions of itself - is a very interesting one, but it feels like it's not really followed through on to the degree that it could have been, with the story's commentary feeling cursory at best, its view of politics and interventionism somewhat muddled. McAuley, in my opinion, shines his best when he' ...more
Jimm Wetherbee
Sep 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I must admit that I am not a fan of alternative history novels. There is first the problem how alternative history differs from fiction in general. The answer usually turns on a single event turning out differently that is in fact the case. To look a recent and painful incident, authorities might have connected the proverbial dots and foiled the 9/11 plot. Going back further, image that on August 23, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. came down with laryngitis, or more happily that he did not go out ...more
McAuley's book uses the association of America as a place for awe inspiring science with American propensity for war as a paintbrush for his story. His story is not about alternate worlds but America and its appetite for destruction, played out using these characters. The story is somewhat convoluted but the atmosphere of an almost-noir story set among alternate worlds keeps you entertained.
Aug 30, 2019 rated it it was ok
2 1/2 stars.
Didn't keep me captivated
Cowboy Angels has as its background a United States which, having gained access through the development of quantum computing in the 1960s to various alternative versions of its own history, proceeds to infiltrate, ally, fund and destabilise in time-honoured fashion until by the 1980s it has its own empire of client USAs, all dominating their respective globes but subservient to their political masters in "the Real".

This could be a fascinating story, but unfortunately we only get glimpses of it.
Jun 17, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science-fiction
In the first chapter of this book, I found the incredibly hawkish "Go 'Murica" neo-con politics so off-putting that I almost put the book down. For the author, apparently the rest of the world doesn't exist except as shadowy opponents. Given enormous military resources and access to other timelines, America chooses to "free" other Americas in as many timelines as possible--and only other Americas. Cuba is mentioned once, as a temporary refuge for democratic Americans in a despotic scenario; Euro ...more
Zeke Chase
I first read this book before I began doing my reviews, so when I signed up for Goodreads, I merely gave it a rating and left it at that. However, this book is forever coming back to my mind, and whenever I see it on my shelf, I am struck with a certain urge to drop everything and read it again, despite the fact that I said to myself I'd never read a sequel (were there ever to be one), nor another book by Paul McAuley. I feel I need to adjust my rating a bit, and write a proper review.

This book
Jason Pettus
Jan 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

This is my third book now by science-fiction veteran Paul McAuley (all of them courtesy of our friends at Pyr); and like the other two, this latest is based on a really great if not overly familiar premise -- basically, that humans invent a "quantum gate" that lets them travel between infinite sets of alte
May 28, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: crime, fiction, scifi, noir
'Cowboy Angels' is an exciting combination of crime noir, spy thriller, and science fiction. The idea is that Turing Gates, or portals into parallel worlds, have been discovered. Because they were discovered in America, the government decided to use them to create a pan-American empire. The thread of imperialism that runs through the world-building in the novel is distasteful but strikingly convincing. Only America has access to the Turing Gate technology, unlikely as this seems twenty years aft ...more
Alex Telander
Paul McAuley takes the concept of United States domination and occupation to a whole new level in his latest and excellently titled Cowboy Angels. In 1963 the first Turing gate was opened; three years later a gate was made large enough to allow the first person to travel into another world: an alternate history to the one we know. Thus begun a series of events under different presidents that led to our United States playing a supposed importantly role in helping shaping these alternate histories ...more
Daniel (Attack of the Books!) Burton
If you aren’t paying attention, you might forget that Paul McAuley’s new novel, Cowboy Angels, is science fiction. Don’t get me wrong: there’s no doubt that it is science fiction. But McAuley has written a clever, quick, and fast moving novel that has all the elements of a great spy thriller, too. It’s a blend of genres that McAuley pulls off brilliantly, and it makes for an exciting and fast ride, a page turner perfect for a summer vacation or a rainy weekend indoors.

Before I found science fict
Jun 17, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Paul McAuley is quickly becoming one of my favorite SF authors. This is only the third book of his that I've read, but I have really liked all three (Quiet War and Gardens of the Sun are the other two).

This one is a spy/thriller novel set across several iterations of America in the multiverse. Our main character, Adam Stone (was McAuley being ironic with that name?), is a former undercover agent for the Company (his home universe's equivalent of the CIA), infiltrating other universes (or "sheav
Jan 08, 2011 rated it liked it
I picked up this one at the library after I read and liked something else by this author (The Quiet War) late last year.

The basic premise behind 'Cowboy Angels' is around the existence of what are called Turing Gates, essentially devices that allow people and things to travel into alternate universes. Each universe, usually described as a 'sheaf', has differentiated itself from the one we know in some way - the main place we see, calling itself the Real, is very clearly not the US we're familiar
Lianne Burwell
Oct 19, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf, library, alt-history
This is a high-tech science fiction novel set... in the 1980s.

Back in the seventies, scientists find a way to open gates to alternate universes, usually either one fairly similar to their own, or else ones where human civilization never developed. Being the US, they immediately start to intervene in alternate Americas to create a 'Pan-American' alliance. You can get the feel for the attitude when the universe that developed this technology is referred to as the 'Real'.

But after years of this, un
Maddi Hausmann
I really enjoyed this alternate-history/crosstime/spy-thriller pastiche.

What really surprised me is I know McAuley is from the UK, yet for the most part he made all the different United States of Americas (there are several) believable. He only dropped the juggled balls a couple of times. Once he tripped with the phrase "strips of Canadian bacon," because I guess as a Brit he wouldn't know Canadian bacon isn't strips at all, but round slices. There was another similar mistake like that which I'v
This was my first novel by British SF writer Paul McAuley. It is a thriller set across several "sheaves" of the multiverse, in which one version of 1970s America is spreading covert and overt influence over alternate Americas. Retired CIA operative Adam Stone is recalled from his retirement in an agrarian Manhattan to track down his former colleague and now renegade Tom Waverly, who has absconded with a self-aware device that can be used to enhance the capabilities of the inter-universe gates. T ...more
Trevin Sandlin
Jul 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Solid 4 stars. This was a fascinating read that captivated me from start to finish. It's several books at once. Starts as an exploration of quantum theory and the "many worlds" theory of alternate universes. Moves on to to be a thriller that keeps you turning the pages to find out what happens next. And ends with (view spoiler). But throughout the novel, it is one of the most fascinating explorations of colonialism, imperialism and "endless war" that I've e ...more
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Since about 2000, book jackets have given his name as just Paul McAuley.

A biologist by training, UK science fiction author McAuley writes mostly hard science fiction, dealing with themes such as biotechnology, alternate history/alternate reality, and space travel.

McAuley has also used biotechnology and nanotechnology themes in near-future settings.

Since 2001, he has produced several SF-based tech

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