The temperature is risingRWW Greene (Angry Robot 978-0857669728, paperback, 400pp, $15.99) May 2022.
Greene’s third novel is, above all, a counterfactual account of what happens in the decades following the year 1961, when Earth is threatened by invaders from Mercury. But that oversimplified description ignores a host of other themes, virtues, and plotlines that make the book a jam-packed action-adventure tale centered around a lovable antihero. The novel features the gonzo brilliance of a Rudy Rucker book or the classic Norman Spinrad, as well as an alternate world-building that Harry Turtledove might envy.
We start with a few thousand word prologue which is a bit misleading as to what the rest of the book will be. Our hero in this section is a Jet Carson, a rocket jockey in the United States Mate Space Force, used to routine actions like ferrying stuff to the Eisenhower Station in orbit. (You can see that this continuum diverged from ours even before the aliens arrived.) Jet also has counterparts among the Russians. On a crucial day, Jet is ordered to launch his squadron into orbit and encounter rival Russians. There, astronauts from both nations learn of the impending Mercurian invasion – one large ship with many small scouts. Their mission is to stop the invaders before they can do more damage – they’ve already wiped out a few cities on Earth, but the news has been suppressed. Off Jet flies away, on what will turn out to be, alas, a suicide mission.
This section is presented in parody tones, like something written by Sheckley or Harry Harrison, and the reader might suspect that the rest of the book will also continue to be comedy in broad strokes. But instead, we learn that we’ve witnessed the made-up Hollywood version of the Jet Carson story, and the rest of the book will instead convey the concrete reality of Greene’s script.
We jump to 1975 and meet our real protagonist, Brooklyn Lamontagne, a young man who is pretty much an antisocial slacker and a mook (although he loves and honors his mother), subsisting on petty criminal enterprises. Its social circle is vividly fleshed out with many colorful characters, and the whole world scene – everyone is just waiting for the Damoclean sword from the alien invasion that was previously prevented – is transmitted accurately. There is almost a kind of John Dos Passos naturalism in this section. For these inhabitants of 1975, life goes on. The Rolling Stones have a new version and that matters more than some space jokers. (The book is filled with clever and relevant musical references – some dovetailing with our story, some contradicting – and the book thus gains a kind of Tom Robbins/Richard Brautigan.)
One of Brooklyn’s capers goes awry, he ends up in jail facing a serious sentence, then gets the chance to enlist in the Earth Defense Force. He accepts the offer, and now we follow him through his boot camp, unexpected heroism, his first missions, combat time and then – well, Greene throws a big curveball that I won’t reveal, this which puts Brooklyn in a very strange situation. place and explode all the hypotheses and certified knowledge that humanity had. Oh, and maybe I didn’t mention that Brooklyn gets an injection of alien technology, making him somewhat superhuman, and also acquires a green-skinned Amazonian girlfriend. The tale’s ending is quite satisfying and conclusive, actually returning to Jet Carson, but nonetheless, here it is: our editor happily informs us that a sequel is due in 2023, retrograde earth. A very welcome prospect.
Greene’s tone and presentation of Brooklyn life is somewhat reminiscent of Richard Morgan’s cybernoir. But Greene also displays a humanistic, almost equestrian aura that’s perfectly consistent with the mid-1970s. the scene of a perpetual Woodstock-cum-Grateful-Dead event. It’s a meditative and bucolic moment amidst all the wild action that powerfully conveys the reality of this world.
He was sipping a beer and chatting with Holly as the crater rim slowly filled with hippies and dress and cult types. Hawkers worked in the crowds, selling drugs and handicrafts, soft drinks, beer, underground eight titles and cheap souvenirs. Women in tie-dye skirts danced to the music of bagpipes and drums.
When Brooklyn settles into that very strange place I alluded to, with other abducted humans and a host of aliens, the book takes on a bit of John Varley’s pleasant weight. But I hope that with my references to a passe of other authors as models, I don’t eliminate Greene’s unique organic integrity. It has a distinctive voice and worldview, rich in speculative and narrative chops, and this tale achieves this fictional desideratum to instantiate a world that never was, which is nonetheless alluring enough for us to imagine living in it. , but not happily ever after.
Paul Di Filippo has been writing professionally for over 30 years and has published nearly that many books. He lives in Providence RI, with his partner of even more years, Deborah Newton.
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