Spin Control, Chris Moriarty

Bantam Spectra, 2006, 456 pages, C$16.00 tpb, ISBN 0-553-38214-4

Writing a review can be a declaration of victory over the work being discussed. It’s a way to come to a conclusion, to shape a final opinion. Whether it’s a rave or a rant, a review is a way of declaring to the world –There it is, I have figured out what this is all about, and how it relates to me. Case closed. Next.

And that makes Spin Control all that harder to review. For despite this reviewer’s best intentions, Chris Moriarty’s sophomore effort seems to fall into the morass of mid-list SF novels, solid enough to deserve upper-tier publishing but not sufficiently memorable to float above the rest of its contemporaries. Worse yet: Spin Control isn’t much better (or worse) than Moriarty’s previous Spin State, which inspired similar feelings of ambivalence.

Part of the blah can be tracked to the quasi hum-drum nature of the books’ premise. Spin State recast issues about coal mining in outer space, whereas Spin Control rehashes the same Israel/Palestine conflict three hundred years in the future, without much by way of change. While not completely implausible by middle-eastern standards where every ideological nut seems to have thousand-year-old grievances, the sheer pedestrian nature of the book’s main axis of conflict sucks interest out of the remainder of the book. Moriarty brings little that’s new or original to this issue (though her description of “Enders” is a nice SF nod) and the feeling is a lot like being spoon-fed bitter cough medicine: While it may be good for me, it’s hardly any fun.

This isn’t helped by the glacier-fast pacing of the book, which stretches in time even as the plot demands a faster pace. That problem also plagued Spin State, but the difference between ideal and actual pacing seems even more pronounced here given this sequel’s heightened intent as a thriller. Spin Control, at nearly five hundred pages of dense typography, overstays its welcome by at least a hundred pages.

Perhaps the best thing about the novel is how it really attempts to create a hybrid out of espionage thrillers and Science Fiction. Many, many, many recent authors have trodden down this path lately, from Richard Morgan to Charles Stross, but Moriarty is less focused on gadgets and more on the toll that official secrets can take on individual lives. This is where the grim ponderousness of the novel pays off, heightening the novel’s credibility as an espionage thriller in the vein of classic John Le Carré: how spying isn’t about the fancy gadgets and the high stakes, but about barren lives, the absence of certitude and the brutality of the business. Moriarty may crank up the tension for too long, but when the spring finally unwinds in the last few pages, the results leave almost no one unscathed.

Moriarty generally does better when it comes to the SF content of her story: The science is exact, the references are interesting, and the purer SF moments are handled with professionalism. It still could have been cut and edited down to a smoother-flowing rhythm, but hard-SF readers will not be disappointed by Moriarty’s grasp of science and the speculations she spins off her contemporary sources. (A reference bibliography is included.)

But trying to pin down Spin Control in a coherent “recommended/not recommended” verdict is a frustrating exercise: There are enough better books out there covering roughly the same terrain that it would take a long time for any reader to make it down to Spin Control before next year’s crop. On the other hand, Spin Control is a professional work of fairly good science-fiction, mature and polished enough to appear in a big publisher’s lineup without surprise. I wish Moriarty would strip down her prose and tackles issues that can’t be heard in contemporary news bulletins, but really, I just want to see her next novel.

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