Fiction Reviews

The Curve of the Air

(2013) Simon Morden, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, 373pp, ISBN 978-0-356-50182-6


Boo! Hiss! While the previous three Samuil Petrovitch books – Equations of Life, Theories of Flight and Degrees of Freedom – all shared a 1960s-like, far out, psychedelic, optical illusion of a cover – think circles, waves, ribbons, eye-watering mazes, the sort of thing that might have graced one of Len Deighton’s Harry Palmer novels - the cover of The Curve of the Air is your bog-standard generic, futuristic city-scape with the glare of the sun scorching across the top third of the cover that really has absolutely nothing to do with what’s inside the covers.

What is inside is the start of the continuing adventures of Samuil Petrovitch, better known as Sam, and a whole load of other names – good and bad – depending on who has encountered him in the past and what sort of state he has left them in while he led the revolution that established the 'Freezone' in the first trilogy – new readers need not feel left out as Morden does more than an okay job of filling in the blanks without coming across as overly 'info-dumperish'.

Ten years have passed since the first trilogy and Sam is now on a quest to discover what has happened to his stepdaughter, Lucy, who has disappeared while on a research trip to Alaska to investigate all things aurorae. Normally, for normal folk, going to a foreign country to find a missing family member would be fairly routine, although obviously a pre cursor to some sort of adventure, but when you are Sam, things can never be that straightforward, especially when you have a bit of 'previous' with the Americans which is now a country being run by the Reconstructionist Party who are in the running to win the most repressive regime ever prize, and some of their agents are on Sam’s tail, while he has his own FBI agent, Joseph Newcomen – kinda sounds like Newconmen, doesn’t it – supposedly helping him. Yes, it was hate at first sight, and there is an obvious buddy-movie/bromance going on here as Sam and Newcomen continue to rub each other up the wrong way. Politics and ideologies aside, apart from the desire to find his step daughter, Sam is also intrigued by the fact that Lucy’s digital presence disappeared from the Freezone computers at the same time as something was recorded as falling from the sky. Falling, or was it pushed – and for that read, shot down, so what have the Americans really got to hide?

Fast, furious, filled with inventive locales and equally inventive characters, this over-the-top adventure has just the right amount of Russian swear words muttered by its wise-cracking and cynical hero, and a whole lot more besides. For some reason I was reminded of Kim Newman’s Warhammer books (in his Jack Yeovil disguise) set in an alternative America and also Pat Mills’ Marshall Law comics. Given that the book comes in at an average of just under ten pages a chapter that is cause for joy, through a cause of sadness is an excerpt from Charlie Stross’ novel Halting State at the end of the book – no bad thing in itself, but a mouth-watering, teaser chapter from the next part of the series would have been preferred. “The Curve of the Air” raises a whole lot of unanswered questions to hook the reader in and keep them coming back for more. You can expect some of these questions will be answered in future volumes, and since Sam claims to have solved the hard science puzzles needed to power a 'star drive', hopefully he can find someone rich and foolish enough to build him a spaceship. Here’s to 'Sam’s adventures in outer space!'

Ian Hunter

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