I’m too lazy today to even pretend to work on new stuff, so you get a retro review from July 11, 2013.
Review: 7th Sigma, Steven Gould, 2011.
Take the American Southwest back to the Stone Age courtesy of the bugs – solar-powered, self-replicating robots whose metal-chomping ways not only endanger humans too close but also eliminate all electronic technology and all metal in the area. Add a land settled by hardy pioneers or those too stubborn too leave. Throw in a Captain of the local constabulary who is interested in bringing in the scum bothering those pioneers – the highwaymen, the meth dealers, the murders and religious cults and secessionists. Then take a runaway thirteen year old boy found and trained by a homesteading akaido master, and lay it all out along the lines of another young boy employed as a spy in a dicey frontier zone, Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, and you have Gould’s quite satisfying novel.
There’s the martial arts story, there’s the very Kiplingesque young-man-learning-lessons plot, there’s a post-apocalypse feel as we see the ruins of old towns and cities, and there’s the fascination of surviving in this frontier through a combination of imported technology like ceramic arrowheads and old ways like building adobes and weaving baskets. Of course, in a story where people move by animal power or their own legs, there’s also a very definite western feel to it. But Gould doesn’t scrimp on the science fiction weirdness either as our young spy Kimble (not the only name here that is playfully allusive) meets new forms of “bugs”, and Gould gives us a sort of answer to their mystery.
He also gives us some expected plot developments in the lives of the Captain, the sensei, and Kimble, but that part of the story is told unsentimentally, obliquely, and with wit. Gould is also quite effective at pacing a story covering five years in Kimble’s life.
The bugs may be rather novel, but Gould has given us some nice presents from the past in the elements of this story, one told in a concise manner too seldom seen these days.