Sunday, September 23, 2007

Queen City Jazz

By Kathleen Ann Goonan.

This book sure knew how to push my buttons. Verity is a young woman being yanked around in a power game through compulsions that she is biologically unable to deny. We are quickly told that she, perhaps sixteen years old, has been visiting a library in nearby Dayton once a year, to be filled with knowledge? memories? that she cannot remember afterwards. Every time, the seductive pull of the Bell changes her refusal into acquiescence.

Of course I'm a sucker for sympathizing with characters who are being coerced not only physically, but also emotionally, mentally, by having their very memories rewritten... something that never happens in the real world, right? This is science fiction, but is, like A Door Into Ocean, more concerned with people than the particulars of the technology. It reminded me of Ceres Storm in the way technology is magical and also in the way the protagonist, for the first half of the book, seems to just stumble her way exactly into the places she needs to be to solve the puzzle and pick apart the twisted knot that Cincinnati, "Enlivened" by nanotechnology, has become.

This book does not seem to have a place for God; one character says that the prayers of past religions were really people talking to other parts of their own brains. I hear that the third and fourth books of this quartet, really prequels, reveal that aliens were perhaps responsible for the nanotech future. (Actually, I got that off Amazon when I was checking to see if any more of the books were about Verity.)

I think I liked this book mostly because of Verity's sympathetic quality: young, bewildered, callously manipulated by forces she barely knows exist. The creative application of technology was somewhat interesting, especially the tie-ins with bees, but the author didn't use very many fresh ideas besides that one. The repeated references to jazz figures were tiring, especially after reading In War Times by the same author. (She makes many of the same references in both books.) The plot was vague in some parts, although I'm hoping the sequel (Mississippi Blues) may clear up some of them.

Overall, I enjoyed it, but I don't think it was truly great.

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