First off, I’ve got to say I was excited for this one. You can clearly see me make a stupid face in happiness when my signed copy came in the mail. Out of the Sixty-Four from last year, only Embassytown was the only one I read in hardcover. That just goes to show how much I’ve got to anticipate a book to get it instantly in HC rather than wait for my happy little mass market size.
Lemme give you my own version of the inside flap summary. Anika Duncan pilots an airship (!) for the UN Polar Guard. This is rather needed what since there is no more Arctic ice cap. Some Bad Things happen to her ride because she’s trying to do her job and some mean looking radiation shows up on a beater of a Russian cargo ship. A lot of unwanted attention starts flying Anika’s way as she fights the system to try making things right. She gets stuck between spy agencies and green corperations on the floating north pole city of Thule in a fight over a geo-engineered super weapon.
I started this book last Friday and polished off the end on my lunch break yesterday. This book is a fast read and it’s on the shorter end of average. Neither of these things are bad. This book is as long as it needs to be, feeling neither cut down nor elongated for the sake of a page count. The pacing and length work because of the tropes stolen from another genre.
See, first off this is a near future sci fi book. Frankly, I find the near future stuff fun. It’s neat to see technologies that are being talked about now, as part of the world of the book. Anika has a pair of Oakleys that work as a live action heads up display which Google is working on now. Cargo ships motor around with giant parasails to cut down on fuel costs. The near future stuff applies socially as well. With the Arctic opened up, all the polar countries are now the major players in the world. Alaska is now the big guy in the US in more than just land area. Canada and Greenland are the go to countries for work and resources. The whole northern frontier plays like a Wild West kind of environment. The most interesting, and realistic, social bit is Greenland being wicked restrictive of people coming into their country. Three months of work then you’re out til next year because they don’t want to instantly become a minority in their own country. This near future world reminded me a lot of Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl in that all of this is very logical and something that sounds totally plausible.
Now take all these nifty near-future tropes and throw them into a blender with a spy book. We’ve got agencies and black ops and smugglers and governments making people disappear. There are layers of disavowal and constant bluff and double bluffs. This makes the speed of the book work in a very satisfying way. There’s no such thing as down time in a race to save the world.
SoArctic Rising has got the plot and the pacing. Let’s talk about Anika. I find her a very compelling character. As a person, she’s out of her element like no one’s business. She’s a city girl from Lagos Nigeria, but up in the Arctic, the UN let’s her fly airships. Anyone who loves their job can get a thumbs up from me, there’s a lot to be said for job satisfaction in real life and for a character who will literally go to the ends of the earth to do what she wants. Our other two main characters are Roo Jones, a quasi freelance spy for the Caribbean Intelligence Agency. He lives in a catamaran and tools around the ocean doing his work, and Violet, a club owner and drug runner. A varied but completely capable crew. But they’re not front line fighters and that’s actually kind of refreshing. All three of these people will shoot someone if needed, but they’re not James Bond or SEAL team or Tijuana hit squad. I like my characters to have flaws and limits to them. Even Superman has kryptonite.
One of the things that I found absolutely awesome is how the book deals with part of Anika’s character. She’s gay, which just is. I couldn’t care less about things like, some people are so of course some characters are. I’ve read some books though that make a huge deal about having homosexual or minority or whathaveyou characters. They come off as “Oh lookit me! Look over here I’m so socially progressive so I’m going to flail about this detail which has no bearing on any other aspect of the book!” Now, who Anika is interested in actually does have bearing on the book, since that’s how she knows Violet. But in two simple paragraphs when one character asks about it, Buckell deals with it in two of the smallest paragraphs but two of the most hilaroius. I won’t ruin the moment, but trust me, you’ll know the awesome moment when you get to it.
The other intangible that I really enjoyed about this book is the complete lack of Americacentricness. It’s a big word I just made up. In a world where the Arctic is big, of course the US would have a presence there, but it would be foolish to think that America would still be the big man on campus. There is an American presence, but it is not the focus at all. The book takes place in Canada and the iceberg city state Thule. Roo isn’t even from the Arctic, but the Caribbean nations want a piece of the action too and if you need more explanation than that, it’s there and completely logical in the near future spy world we’ve got going on here. With genre books taking so much flack all the time for being Euro- and American- centric all the time, the change of point of view is refreshing, even to us Americans too. I like seeing new angles, people and ideas just as much as anyone. If you’ve read any of Buckell’s other books, this is a theme you will easily and happily recognize.
So let’s sum this up. The plot is awesome, the near futureness is plausable and realistic, the spy action is just that, epic action, and the characters are well developed and likable. The book ties up all the loose ends (unlike certain other other things I finished recently) except for that one thread leading to a sequel. Didn’t bother me one bit because it fit in with the spy themes real well.
So go read this.
Next up…. Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire.