Fiction Reviews

War of the Maps

(2020) Paul McAuley, Gollancz, £14.99, trdpbk, 415pp, ISBN 978-1-473-21734-8


.On a giant artificial world surrounding an artificial sun, one man - a lucidor, a keeper of the peace, a policeman - is on the hunt. His target was responsible for an atrocity, but is too valuable to the government to be truly punished. Instead, he has been sent to the frontlines of the war, to use his unique talents on the enemy. So the lucidor has ignored orders, deserted from his job, left his home and thrown his life away, in order to finally claim justice.

Separated by massive seas, the various maps dotted on the surface of this world rarely contact each other. But something has begun to infiltrate the edges of the lucidor's map, something that genetically alters animals and plants and turns them into killers. Only the lucidor knows the depths to which his quarry will sink in order to survive, only the lucidor can capture him. The way is long and dangerous. The lucidor's government has set hunters after him. He has no friends, no resources, no plan. But he does have a mission.

From award-winning author, Paul McAuley comes an epic space opera, a space-western, giving us an almost man-with-no-name known as the lucidor, whose actual real name is Thorn (although that is hardly mentioned) on a quest to track down the arch-criminal, Remfrey, Without giving away some of the plot, and some of the mechanics of McAuley’s world-building prowess, suffice to say, that the lucidor kept the peace in an area known as Free State (the title of the area giving a very big hint to how the country is run). At great personal cost he has caught and imprisoned Remfrey, but the mad, bad scientist has escaped and fled to nearby Patua, which is very different from Free State. Free State and Patua seem to be in collusion and no-one appears willing to go after Remfrey, so the lucidor does, leaving his job and country behind to bring Remfrey to justice as a threat arises to the maps of the world – not just geographical maps, but genetic “life” maps as something is altering all forms of life with the most alarming being the rise of the “alter women” brought about by an algae which kills off men and children and turns women into monsters. McAuley has shown in previous books (Eternal Light, Evening's Empires, Into Everywhere, Red Dust, etc.) that he is a master of world-building and here we get a mixture of different kinds of worlds, with different kinds of technologies, or lack of them, combined with people who have almost magical abilities including giving other electric shocks to the lucidor’s own ability to dampen the powers of others, but there are also political and ideological differences in the lands he encounters.

Told in 3 parts and 54 chapters, War of the Maps moves along at a fair pace and readers will see echoes from the works of Jack Vance and Gene Wolfe, even William Hope Hodgson and a nod towards a certain epic poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, as well as several westerns from the epic vistas that McAuley describes to the internal workings of the lucidor himself, both a hero and an anti-hero, who on his travels gets caught up in plight of others, and is able to help them and encounters some memorable characters such as a biologist called Orjen Starbreaker and her assistant, Lyra. Other readers might think of the TV series Firefly and Stephen King’s epic The Dark Tower series, particularly The Gunslinger. Perhaps, I was reminded most of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men and a hero who is flawed and aging and widowed and full of self-doubt in a world that is changing around him as he undergoes his own “Heart of Darkness” quest.

In War of the Maps, McAuley has delivered a novel packed with great world-building, great characters, action and narrative drive, and hopefully in the future McAuley will return to this world dominated by the World Ocean and the lands which lie around it. Recommended.

Ian Hunter


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