Earthbaby by Peter Such (Ekstasis), 338 pages, $22.95 paper. Rating: NNNN
In Peter Such's long-awaited fourth novel, Earthbaby, there's bad news and good news. The bad news first. In the near future the Pentagon gets privatized and vicious thugs take over the North American Protectorate.
The good news is people still like to have sex. Quite a lot of it, in fact, and with numerous partners, not only on gravity-bound Earth, but free-floating with legs asprawl all over deep-space station Earthbaby.
As in his previous novels, Dolphin's Wake and the classic Riverrun, Such writes women well. Earthbaby's co-narrator, Lillith Shawnadithit, makes wry and randy observations about her crewmates, giving rich psychological underpinnings to the novel's non-stop action and suspense.
The author is well-versed in the intricacies of space flight. His narrative vibrates with laser beam trajectories and deep-space calculations but doesn't for a second get bogged down in unnecessary detail. In fact, at times Such's elegant prose touches on and becomes poetry. (Don't worry - not that flashy, gag-reflex kind of poetry that has tainted so many Canadian novels.)
Suspense and sex give Earthbaby its drive and traction, but it's the Regulators, a mysterious über-sect using the solar system as a kind of super-computer, who give the book its mystery and deeper originality.
Apropos the book's thesis that the solar system is a mega-computer, Such writes of the close resemblance between the towns we fly over and the circuit boards in computers - the electric power lines, the communication cables, the different conducting densities of buildings, the roadways and so on, circuits that in turn are connected to the major power grids, switching stations and highways.
Earthbaby should thrill anyone who likes a good story, but for those who love real science fiction - fiction that extrapolates believably from current science - it's an indispensable new addition to the Canadian canon.