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Friday, June 10, 2011

Equations of Life - Simon Morden

The moment I saw the cover for Simon Morden's Equations of Life I was intrigued.  In a genre known for covers like S.M. Stirling's Rising, the art put together by Orbit Books screamed unique.  I have to give them credit for giving a new author something that differentiates him on the shelf.  Throw in a blurb that has Armageddon, jihads, and complex math and there was little doubt I was pumped to get my hands on it.


Morden's novel features a fairly standard protagonist named Samuil Petrovich - he's begrudgingly heroic and decidedly irreverent in the face of danger.  He's also an advanced theoretical mathematician who suffers from a degenerative heart condition.  On his way to the university, Petrovich witnesses an attempted kidnapping of a young girl.  Despite his best interests he intervenes, saving her from abduction.

Along the way he gets a hand from Maddy, a gun toting amazonian nun, who helps him return the rescued girl to her father - who just so happens to be the head of the Oshicora crime family (read Yazuka).  Caught between the Russian mob, the Oshicoras, the police, a couple of street gangs, and a mysterious entity calling itself the New Machine Jihad, Petrovich finds himself in a high stakes tug and pull for Metrozone's future.


Equations wasn't what I expected - at all.  The title, the cover art, the blurb all pointed in my mind to something a lot more akin to the film A Beautiful Mind.  Usually when my preconceived notions are blown apart I tend to be disapointed.  With Equations that wasn't the case at all.  While mathematics only lurked on the periphery of the story and Petrovich turned out to be far more Chow Yun Fat than Rick Moranis, the book whipped by at such a pace that I never had a moment to lament what it wasn't.  Rather, I focused on what is was - a first rate cyberpunk thriller filled with witty dialog and outstanding wizbangs.


Petrovich is the novels primary focus.  He's an onion-y character that reveals himself slowly and almost always accompanied by Russian epithets.  Who he really is and why he got involved are questions that permeate the early parts and drives things when the action slows down.  Unfortunately, the breadth of the story and the pace Morden chose to tell it left little time to explore the novels secondary characters or elaborate on the setting.  In particular Petrovich's nun companion, Maddy gets short shrift despite significant page time.


Additionally, there seems to be a bit of a trend developing to start series with narrower plots before expanding into a more epic struggle in the subsequent installments (Shadow's Son by Jon Sprunk is a recent one that comes mind immediately).  I'd love to talk to someone on the decision making side of the industry at some point to see whether this is a conscious decision.  Telling more self contained stories precludes the need for information dumps, but also removes some of the wonder that's the lifeblood of the genre.  Equations walks a fine line of hinting at the larger world yet staying unencumbered.  It's largely successful, but I found myself very much wanting to know more about what's going on outside Merry ol' England.


In all, Equations of Life was an excellent first installment in Simon Morden's Metrozone Series.  While I found the lack of academia disappointing, the fantastic pace and action more than made up for it.  I'm sure I'll be diving into Theories of Flight and Degrees of Freedom soon.  And if the ending to Equations holds up there is sure to be a bigger dose of theoretical math ahead.

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