My rating: 5 of 5 stars
To say this book has many layers is an understatement. First, there’s the settings and characters in each separate section, moving through time: from the past, to the present day to the future, and then back down to the past again, starting with a sailing ship from 400 years ago that’s taking part in plundering the South Pacific, to a futuristic Korea, where human drones now do all the tedious work. We see these worlds through the eyes of people who all have random connection through time.
Each section is written in a different style – California detective noir and cold, unsparing sci-fi, for example. Even a made-up type of post-Apocalyptic pidgin appears mid-way through the book. The transitions between the styles can be jarring, and sometimes feel like an attempt of the author to show off a little, but ultimately it ends up like you’re reading half a dozen great books, instead of just one.
The theme here is the choice humans have to be either nasty, cutthroat imperialists (either via rampant racism, sexism or unchecked technophilic manipulation) or peaceful cooperating folk, and Mitchell shows us a future world where the imperialists won — and ultimately destroyed themselves. Each character struggles with this battle.
I think a second book exploring a world where the peaceful notions win out would be interesting, though perhaps less dramatic.
My only complaint is I felt the sections dealing with a selfish, callous musician from the early 1900s went on too long, along with the storyline involving a British book editor who is convinced he’s been erroneously locked up in a nursing home. Perhaps it was just that I didn’t feel connected to these characters.
I absolutely adored the interview with Son-Mi, a cloned human who is supposed to be unaware of her slave-like status, who reaches transcendence/awareness, and with this one small act, thus kicks off a world-wide revolution.