This is a hard Sci-Fi story exploring themes of perception, intelligence and self-awareness. The story tracks three major plot lines: the Chinese government’s response to a lethal virus, a blind girl and the experimental treatment which may allow her to see, and the breakthroughs made by an underfunded primate language research team. By the end of the book, two of these plotlines have intersected and fused into a single story, while the third is, sadly, left isolated and unresolved.
Imagine that there is a city where, whatever it is that you personally obsess about, they have it there and it is better than anything that you have ever found elsewhere. That’s the city in Palimpsest. How do you get there? Well, that’s the problem, isn’t it.
This is billed as a “Story of 22nd Century America!”, but the overall feel is more like a tale from some time in the 1800’s. You see, it’s post- economic and energy collapse America, and now that there is no easy access to fossil fuels, the world has reverted to steam and muscle power. Also, the stated policy of the new Fundamentalist government is that humanity was punished for the sin of pride, and that the only path for redemption is to live as they did in a simpler, more God-fearing time.
If you read geeky stuff (and what are you doing here if you don’t?) then you’ve probably seen the cover of this book at any number of other web sites. It’s a sepia-toned close up of a woman wearing brass steampunk goggles with an ornate airship reflected in the lenses (actual image here just in case you haven’t seen it). If you’re wondering if Boneshaker might appeal to you, that image right there has 90% of what you need to know.
The only thing it leaves out is the horde of zombies.
First off, some quick background: there’s a group of us who are undertaking what my wife calls the Crazy Hugo Project. We’re going to read all of this year’s Hugo Award nominees before the voting due date. The first one I’ve tackled is China Miéville’s The City & The City.