The Curve of The Earth by Simon Morden – Book Review [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk reviews the latest Samuil Petrovich novel from Orbit Books.
“Vivid, snarky and immensely fun, this makes me want to go read the trilogy that precedes this since I want more of Samuil Petrovich’s adventures in the Metrozone!” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields
When I picked up this book, I was at a major disadvantage. The Curve of The Earth is the sequel to an entire trilogy and I have not read any of the books that have preceded this one. Consequently, there are a lot of the elements of Morden’s world that I could not grasp since he had already done a lot of the setup in the previous books, setup which I believe goes by at jetspeed since the author doesn’t go into much detail. Which is just as good, and is how it should be. He shouldn’t have to reiterate the various building blocks of his world in every book, that’s just silly. Still, I wish I had read those books so I had a better understanding of this near-future world that Morden has created. And the book in itself is solid enough and tantalising enough that I do want to go back to read them.
There are three things in the novel that I really liked, and wanted more of.
One, the entire vision of this near-future where London and most of its surrounding areas are now called the Metrozone. In fact, if my understanding is correct, then most of the UK is now one giant city-state. And in this near-future, Russian emigre Samuil Petrovich has invented cheap-as-chips clean energy and gravitational technology, taking his adoptive home forward a few decades compared to the rest of the world. And in this future, America has dissolved into a big brother society where those in authority are everything. In fact, things are so dire for America that the country has regressed psychologically and technologically. The Metrozone is now the premier power in the world, managed in part by AI that Petrovich has helped create, and the progress that it has made contrasts starkly against America, which still refuses any form of AI control and considers it a sin. Yep, that’s right, their are religious overtones at work as well.
Samuil Petrovich himself has gone from being a smart-as-hell physicist to someone who is now a cyborg and is permanently connected to Michael, the premier AI of the Metrozone, who also happens to often act as his sounding board and his conscience. The relationship between Samuil and Michael is explored in quite a bit of detail and makes for some of the best scenes in the novel.
In short, the world-building is fantastic. Morden throws up the contrasts between America and the Metrozone quite often since Samuil has traveled to America to look for his missing daughter and he clashes repeatedly with American authorities.
Two, Samuil’s dialogue is just superb, especially when he is talking with American characters. He is often caustically snarky and it comes up again and again. When he arrives in the country, he is paired with an FBI agent, Joseph Newcomen, to help him in his investigation and the way that Samuil continually schools him was just too good. Hilarious even, worth quite a few laughs. And Samuil is at his best when he berates Newcomen. As a character and protagonist, Samuil has lot to recommend himself. He is smart, sassy, quick to criticize stupidity, honest to a fault and he also acknowledges his faults and mistakes when they arise. His role as a physicist doesn’t come up often, but there are enough references over the course of the novel so it never comes off as just a random plot device or anything such. In constrast, Newcomen has too many faults and largely ignorant of them. It is a good approach to making both both characters likable but the fact of the matter is that Samuil just plain wins out by a landslide.
All the same, through Newcomen, we get to see a rather surprisingly logical view of the future America, an America which looks inward and props itself up on all its faults and none of its strengths. In the context of some recent political and intelligence scandals going on in the US right now, such a vision seems all too true.
Three, the ending is a kicker. Samuil Petrovich’s investigation into his daughter’s disappearance from her research outpost near the American-Canadian border in Alaska quickly turns into something else and the way that Morden resolves that particular plot is just masterful. I did not see it coming, but looking back, he drops quite a few hints, building up the entire mystery and reveal quite well. And in case it wasn’t clear, I love the ending, because it shows off the unpredictable nature of the plot. Morden throws up a lot of red herrings in the narrative, but the reward at the end is well worth it.
The whole adventure vibe of the novel is also something that works in its favour. There are clues to the entire puzzle scattered all over China and America, and Petrovich definitely has his work cut out for him in trying to make sense of it all. I can totally see this novel being adapted for the big screen as a big-budget movie. The visuals of Metrozone and the contrasts between it and America of the future would make for some great cinematic moments.
I definitely enjoyed the narrative, and the pacing is well-maintained throughout. There are a few stumbles here and there but nothing all that major. Any gripes I had with the novel were mainly of my own making, since I wasn’t able to enjoy it fully as I haven’t read the preceding books.
Note: This novel is graded according to a new ratings system, the details of which can be found here.