Tag Archives: Spin series

Spin Control by Chris Moriarty

cover art copyright Stephen Youll, cover design Jamie S. Youll

Spin Control is the second novel in Chris Moriarty’s SPIN series. I read and loved Spin State, but I hesitated on this second novel. Spin State was a great read, but it was bogged down with explaining the dense technology that literally infested Catherine Li’s life.  By the end of the novel, Li was in a relationship with Cohen which intertwined intimately along these technobabelical lines, and I wasn’t sure the next novel could stand against the depth of that kind of relationship – especially since this isn’t fantasy, where somehow I find it easier to accept variations on this sort of mental mesh.

Further, Spin Control is set not on the outer ring of settled-by-humans space, but on an Earth abandoned by all but the religious, the freakish and the Americans, smack in the middle of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The Syndicate – nations that produce and are made up of perfect and ever-perfected clones – drives one of the main subplots, somehow connected with Israeli-Palestinian spy machinations. I thought: this is going to be terrible.

So now I have to eat my words, my hat and some humble pie.

Arkady is defecting from the Syndicate. He goes to Israel, ostensibly looking for Absalom, an Israeli agent, double agent, traitor, what-have-you. In return for information about an undescribed infection, a possible bioweapon, a possible antidote to a UN-spliced virus: he wants help from the Mossad – or really, assistance from anyone – to rescue his friend, colleague, lover, Arkasha. Arkasha is begin held for “renorming”, since he is too non-conforming for the Syndicates’ taste. (This part of the plot: what Arkady was offering, was a bit of a mess, but all spy novels are a bit of a mess at some point.)

Arkady is an excellent channel for the reader to see Earth as it will be in Moriarty’s 2350. As a Syndicate clone, he comes from a carefully, minutely regimented society that does not work according to human political or ideological paths, or even along human biological-emotional-social paradigms.  He is a mermecologist, interested in ants, and not really very good negotiating the complicated political, agencied web the Syndicate usually protects him from.

Israel doesn’t want Arkady: so they hold an auction. The Americans, the Palestinians, the Artificial Life Emancipation Front come to hear Arkady’s story, and perhaps put in a bid for him and his information. This is where Li and Cohen come in: Cohen is a collection of sentient AIs channeled through one major, dominating persona, while Li is his partner, and an ex-veteren, the Butcher of Gilead. After an entire novel through Li’s point of view, Arkady’s horrified perspective of Li as a monster is interesting, and makes for a consistently broken presentation of what is really going on.

Cohen comes as a rep for ALEF, of which he is one of the foremost and oldest members. He also comes as an Israeli-by-nomination, and is entangled through patriotism and personal affection with some major players in the Mossad, and some major diplomatic disasters too. Meanwhile, he and Li are having trouble. There’s no way to put this nicely: Cohen is a dumb boyfriend, and Li has ISSUES. Their complicated, mundane difficulties are lightened by the interjections of router-decomposer, an AI who works for Cohen. router-decomposer is smart, quirky, quippy and sensible all at once – and a refreshing change from every other character.

No one – the Syndicate lines, the Palestinians, the American reps, the Israelis, Cohen&Li, Arkady – trusts anyone else, but since Spin Control is filtered through several different points of view, we are at least spared Li’s bewildered, practical, exhausting paranoia. (We are also spared Li’s former physical frailties, since she is recovered from her old injuries.What we get instead is Cohen’s physical frailties – Cohen filters himselves through a human “shunt”, and he’s overloading his current body. We are continually shown Cohen’s vulnerabilities, his delicate balancing acts to simply run himself in his AI spaces, and present himself in the more fleshly realms. (Cohen’s routines/systems are ant-based, which makes him an interesting parallel to Arkady, who is in mortal danger for most of the novel’s present.)

In between the narrative chaos of action in Israel we see flashbacks to Novalis, where we see Syndicate scientists attempt to study the previously terraformed planet, figure out what happened to the previous team (and who that team was), and try to get along with each other. It’s interesting to see the ways in which the clones are individuals and clone-personae, at one and the same time. Syndicate politics play out according to clone lines, with a few outliers making compromise very difficult. Novalis is a whole new realm of terraforming technonobabble weirdness that should not be, the scientists are falling sick, and tensions rise beyond breaking point.

As the bidders, the agencies, the sellers, the innocents machinate around each other, the Israel-Palestinian war is being strategised by sentient AIs who do not know they ar fighting a real war, that real people are dying. Their soldiers are young adults, wired for AI shunts. Arkady’s evolutionary mutation, bioweapon, what-have-you, just ups the stakes on a planet rich in water and poor in children.

Spin Control’s compelling protagonists balance out its mostly incomprehensible plotlines – you’re continually pulled into empathetic understanding of several nations’ viewpoints while simultaneously having no fucking clue what is going on – until somewhere near the end, where everything dovetails rather too tidily.

Spin Control is a novel concerned with its future, its characters’ propagation and legacies. The Jews and Palestinians are concerned for their dwindling number of children. The Syndicates are concerned that without new planets, new homes, fresh population sources to mine gene-sets from, they will die out. Everywhere, people die. As such, Spin Control is also intensely concerned with the past – when to hold on to, what to keep, what to lose without regret. Cohen is one of the oldest emergent AIs around. Catherine Li has large tracts of her past which she cannot remember. The Israeli and the Palestinian memories of friendly détente tangle inextricably with their current brutalities and the lives they’ve lost and are losing.

I suspect that the novel might stand fairly well on its own, but it performs even better in the trilogy. I’m dying to read Ghost Spin, which should release in January next year. Moriarty presents her work with more grace than in her first novel, juggling her hard science, sociology, (chaos theory? the development of complex systems, anyway) and her convoluted personal relationships to present a coherent, fascinating whole.

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Spin State by Chris Moriarty

Cover by Stephen Youll

Spin State (2003) is the first in Chris Moriarty’s SPIN series, and it was a finalist for quite a few awards (winning none).

The SPIN series is set in a far future where Earth has suffered ecological decay to the extent that most of humanity moved off-planet, “Ringside”. Specific nations, peoples of specific religions, stayed behind on Earth, and were the only ones to do so, and allowed to do so. Ringside and Earth enjoy a shaky unity under the aegis of UNSec (a creepy descendant of today’s UN). Outside of this human political entity are the Syndicates, nations made up of and producing large sets of ever-perfect and perfected clones. Travel and instant communication over the vast distances of space are made possible by “Bose-Einstein condensate”, which is found only on Compson’s World.

Spin State begins by setting up for us the weaknesses in Major Catherine Li’s life, the things that make her vulnerable. As a member of UNSec forces she is riddles with wetware technology that monitors and sometimes reconstructs her memory – some of which she loses with each “jump” through space. She is a Construct, a clone, hiding her overly sculpted features behind the flawed sculpture of plastic surgery. As as army grunt she is at the mercy of her superiors, as a War Hero she is at the mercy of her brutal, horrible reputation – and she doesn’t remember what she did to earn it.

It’s a little hard to get in tune with Li, because in Spin State Moriarty spends an extraordinary amount of time explaining the technology that Li lives with, and in. Her wetware regulates her hormones, backs-up her memories (she then hacks them), her adrenal rushes in fight-or-flight scenes. Her hidden, constructed advantages are treated in some sense as though they are as mechanical and externally sourced as the wetware. Her access to future-internet, which is constantly accessible, allows a surreal “the world-next door” feeling, particularly in her conversations with people planets away, and with Cohen (a sentient AI, ex-lover, friend) whose nature makes him mutable, flexible and simultaneously transient and eternal, ancient. The quantum technobabble is dense, inflexible and utterly necessary to help us understand what the hell is going on, and to my mind Moriarty does not handle it with as much grace as other aspects of the novel. The extraordinary technicality of her every move confines me as a reader, makes it harder for me to focus on the story as opposed to the nuts-and-bolts.

After a mission goes disastrously wrong, losing Li some of her team, shaking her trust in Cohen as a partner and ally, General Nguyen posts Li to Compson’s World to investigate the death of Hannah Sharifi, a construct-clone, a major scientist, who discovered/formulated Einstein-Bose transport among other things. Sharifi died in a flash fire that broke out in the AMC Einstein-Bose mines. Sharifi’s data is lost and the station’s field AI is incommunicado – Li must solve the mystery, find Sharifi’s data (she was looking for a way to make E-B synthetically, off Compson’s World).

It’s not easy. When Li gets to Compson’s World she must deal with: the miner’s unions (more on this later), her forgotten past self, her tricky relationship with Cohen (who is fighting for Emergent AI rights), her still-healing body, the AMC representatives, the Syndicates, the miners themselves, Vi (a construct working to locate mineable ore), the Bore-Einstein ore itself – and none of these people have the same agenda; none of them can be trusted. All Li wants to get out with her job done and her skin in one piece, and she might not get either.

It’s very very wrong to say that you’re sad the Cold War is over, since it produced the best spy novels, but I am so. Spin State, with its unrelentingly paranoid, lonely Li, fits quite comfortably alongside my old favourites. With potential ally-enemies on every side, Li fumbles her way through a classic “Everyone knows what’s going on but you” police procedural.

Separate from Li’s angsts are the miners’ – the miners work hard at a job that they are underpaid to do. It kills them, slowly. It kills them slower if they’re constructs or have construct genealogy, but that just means they’ll work longer for worse.  The people who benefit from their hard work live Ringside in luxury, and are trying desperately to find ways to shut down the condensate entirely and remove a potential hazard. Their option hopes are to leave the planet entirely – nearly impossible – or love the condensates they work to mine. Given that half these miners come from Belfast, the total effect is again of something set in the ’70s and ’80s, perhaps in Thatcher-led Britain. Of all the causes, the sides, in the novel, the miners’ are the ones I was rooting for.

And love. Spin State contains an unforgettable declaration of love, one that is quietly, blatantly, sincerely visualised. So much of the plot is driven by the actions of love, but the novel is never overwhelmed by this, never allows the sentiment more than a few moments of centre-stage.

[Someone has noted already – who? who? I cannot remember! – that Spin State and Elizabeth Bear’s Undertow share several elements – a Doohickey that fuels interstellar travel and communication is only available on one planet. The people responsible for the collection of said Doohickey work under terrible working conditions. Everything is quantum. Someone dies, this death instigates large amounts of the following plot. So if you’ve read Undertow and liked it, or read it and hated it, you should try Spin State.]

Spin State‘s pacing is hampered by its technobabble burden, but it manages nonetheless to race headlong into further half-glimpses of truth and lies. One has a building sense of hopelessness, for Li, for Compson’s World. But last  climactic moments  are superbly done – by this point Moriarty’s hard work with the technicalities has allowed her to transcend them, giving us a plausible tying up of most of the threads. The ending is, well, justifiable and well-anticipated wish-fulfilment, and satisfies one for the story in its entire, whatever one might feel for the individual sub-plots.

As a stand-alone novel, Spin State is an engrossing, sometimes awkward read. As the first in a series, it has great potential and is in fact fantastic. I recommend it highly to those of you who’re looking either for new agent fiction or hard SF.