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Monday, May 9, 2022
MERCURY RISING, alternate space-race history with waaay trippy nukes
Angry Robot (non-affiliate Amazon link)
$6.99 Kindle edition, preorder now
Rating: 4.75* of five (the w-bombs! the w-bombs!)
The Publisher Says: Alternative history with aliens, an immortal misanthrope and SF tropes aplenty
Even in a technologically-advanced, Kennedy-Didn’t-Die alternate-history, Brooklyn Lamontagne is going nowhere fast. The year is 1975, thirty years after Robert Oppenheimer invented the Oppenheimer Nuclear Engine, twenty-five years after the first human walked on the moon, and eighteen years after Jet Carson and the Eagle Seven sacrificed their lives to stop the alien invaders.
Brooklyn just wants to keep his mother’s rent paid, earn a little scratch of his own, steer clear of the cops, and maybe get laid sometime in the near future. Simple pleasures, right? But a killer with a baseball bat and a mysterious box of 8-track tapes is about to make his life real complicated…
I PRACTICALLY HAD TO BEG THE AUTHOR FOR A DRC. I *THOUGHT* WE WERE FRIENDS. MY FEELINGS ARE STILL HURT.
My Review: No, really. Mortally wounded that this wingèd not my way until I groveled. *sniff* (And seriously NO MORE W-BOMBS. Cut that crap out, dirty-old-man-in-training!) I was calmly enjoying the mental soundtrack, the 1970s jukebox that's permanently cued up in my head, when *wham* another revolting w-bomb.
But about that jukebox...would we, in fact, have the precise same pop-cultural artifacts in a world that didn't slow down its climb to the stars? The 1968 Cougar, well, okay, that was already on course from 1958. The planning window of a car in those days was five years...so the 1958s wouldn't've been much altered from our world, as I understand the timeline, which diverges first in the middle 1940s and so those cars can be explained. Pop culture spins on a nailhead. Elvis electrifying the country is one example, the Beatles knocking off his cool-cat cap is another, but both of those came in response to specific cultural stimuli. Wouldn't the world be more law-and-order oriented when the Oppenheimer Nuclear Drives are dangling before the lust-drenched gaze of every young testosterone factory? Can't get in one of those unless your nose is clean.
Which, of course, our PoV character (Brooklyn Lemontagne) flouts. But the reason he's able to flout that social control mechanism is simple: Invaders from Outer Space! The ultimate Golden Age of SF trope. This time they're Mercurians, the patent absurdity of whose existence gives even the Hero of the piece (who apparently dies early on) some pause. Can't argue with the presence of stonking hostile warships and evaporated cities, can you.
This takes place among Americans! Of course you can! The whole planet pulls together to combat the Enemy from Beyond...and there are ignorant goofballs talking conspiracy theories, there are hemi-hippies rebelling against the controlling hand of the grown-ups. This is the world, and honestly I agree with Author Greene's take on it. I quibble with some details, but I believe he's exactly correct that even an existential threat with ample death and destruction to demonstrate its reality won't create more than a façade of unity among the irredeemable mass of humanity. (Look around, tell me, and him, we're wrong.)
So I buy the premise. So I consent to set aside my niggling nuh-uh generator. I'm in for the ride.
Part One: Mercury Rising is straight out of Astounding's *1956 volume. Brave Americans and honorable Soviets lay down their grievances and get on with the job of killin' them some Mercurians. (Mercurians!) The Ultimate Price? Paid. Now what? When and where are we going next? I'm almost sure my Kindle screen cracked under the thumping of my thumb.
Part Two: Bad Blood shifts gears, gives us the rest of the battle story very effectively, and sends Brooklyn, our new PoV man, into some nasty corners. And not one of 'em anything but his own idiot fault. Some gross and very personal violence perpetrated later in the section...it starts to feel like we're going to be in Peckinpah territory through the book...and, on schedule, the fecal matter impacts the rotary air circulation device at warp speed.
The thing about living your life outside is that you learn to watch simple things like a hawk. It takes Brooklyn about three times as long as it should to come up with his get-out-of-jail-free card. But he decides there's nothing else for it: Go to space, full decade enlistment, and get the whole shootin' match handled...crimes forgiven, mother fed, and future still neatly fucked, same as if he'd gone to jail without solving the problems he most cares about solving. Yay...?
Part Three: Squeeze Box details the adjustments of life in military training. It's not like I wasn't expecting it. But I also wasn't enjoying it much until I suddenly twigged: Brooklyn's assigned buddy, Tommy, is gay. And nothing at all fazes Brooklyn, or anyone else it seems, about it.
It seems that the Mercurians (!) destroying Cleveland and causing climate change as well as serious ashfall issues gave people something more interesting than who's zoomin' who to fret over. As well as feed innumerable conspiracy theories that, oddly prove to be correct but misaimed.
Part Four: Take the Money and Run did very little for me, but brightened up the contrast between Brooklyn's America and my 1976 US.
There's a goodly amount of interpersonal violence in this story, fisticuffs to donnybrooking (to use old-fashioned terms); appropriate for a dead-end life such as Brooklyn was living and (I hope) merely his own process of molting that no-longer-needed carapace. The end of the part was oddly assorted with its beginning if that isn't to be the case; our man Brooklyn gets out of his mind instead of out of his head, and does so in the place I think something like Coachella or Burning Man *should* take place: The mass grave of an entire city's populace.
Part Five: The Rubberband Man pretty much just cemented the crazy-shit-men-do-together trope for all time. It's an adventure story, that was an adventure, but...not quite the thing I'd've chosen to prove "once a scofflaw, always a scofflaw" to ye olde readere.
Part Six: Flight '76 was apparently meant to earworm me in the most appalling possible way, including a w-bomb in the first five seconds of the awful, terrible, well-below-mediocre tune that refuses to get out of my head. I think SOMEone owes me some sort of reparations.
Part Seven: Boogie Nights starts with a much better earworm, thank the Nine Goddesses. But it's more transition time treats, ABBA on the Moon (!), and some interesting-to-me alt-hist entertainment...Vice-President JACKSON...then off into the Wild Black Yonder. It goes by really fast.
We do see a good, solid character whose trajectory is geting more interesting, though it's a glancing blow. I'm mostly intrigued by this *McCartney singing political rock opera....
Part Eight: Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood is an earworm I can live with, if without the good memories of Boogie Nights. It's also the best shorthand for the events of this part...there are so many mistakes and screwed-up connections to work out, the metaphor of upgrading the computer is especially apt.
The ship names are giving me little frissons. The (Marie-Madeleine) Fourcade is a woman-captained solo spy ship, the Baron von Steuben old-fashioned, obsolescent, and largely overlooked haven for the queer boys too useful to get rid of but not important enough to keep secure (much to the PTB's cost), each carrying its subtext like a homing beacon and not just one of the darn things. I mean, what did von Steuben do? And where (in Ohio) is Steubenville? And why is Carruthers so shifty?
Part Nine: Runnin' on Empty truly sets new stakes for literally everyone in this, our one wild and precious life. Titanically, existentially reorders whatever priorities you thought you'd formed by utterly altering the ground you plonk your trotters onto every time you think to move.
I do not know of an Odysseus I'd rather see handle this situation than the one who is.
Part Ten: Flash Light wafts its foully malodorously vapid earworm through the four-foot speaker towers in my mental disco.
But that is as nothing to the sudden but inevitable betrayal that This Land endures at the foul, gangrenous typing digits of Author Greene. I am too traumatized to say more.
Part Eleven: Boy from New York City introduces us to the real Jet...short for Jethro...Carson. And now the first part has closure. What we're doing I won't tell you, but I will say that there's a reason you'll want to read this and it's in this part.
Part Twelve: Take a Chance on Me is the first time I haven't wanted to claw my brain out to wash the earworm ichor off it.
There's a lot to cheer for, and a lot left to learn. This is a good solid familiar story arc and it's got lots of good gauds and gew-gaws bejazzling its basic curves. We're going to be offered another trip, right?