Queen of Angels is about lonliness, murder, and the kind of mental trickeries you need to survive. It’s also about a world where therapy has become mandatory. The untherapied live in the shade of the combs, outside the luxurious world of the privileged and the mentally fit. However, murder has struck inside the combs. Emmanuel Goldsmith, the acclaimed poet, has killed several of his protegees, and has now disappeared.
This is not a whodunit. Mary Choy, the principal investigator of this case, determines early on that Goldsmith’s the most likely candidate. She’s a transform — she’s no longer quite human. She’s upgraded her human body into that of the ideal policewoman — her feet are naturally tougher, she can stay awake much longer, and can control her temperature and breathing.* Transforms are the site of much controversy in this world. People hate Mary and often lust for her at the same time. This is especially interesting because her transform makes her black. She’s not brown. She’s black like a shiny black rock. Goldsmith is also black — but in the biological, African Diaspora way. He thinks of himself as a black skinned white man, which parallels how Mary is an artificially black skinned white woman. Unlike Goldsmith, though, Mary’s entering into Otherness doesn’t give her a complex. This was a bit troubling for me, since basically one of the more prominent characters of color has a deep-rooted racial melancholy that eventually drives him insane. I couldn’t tell if Bear was being problematic, or really cleverly indicting racism as a cause of mental pathology. I mean, seriously, all the therapy in the world won’t help you permanently if you live in a racist society. You still have to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune once you leave the safe space of your counselor’s office.
Anyways, Mary’s got to go to Hispaniola to track down Goldsmith. Choy’s a fun character. She’s very professional, not defined by her relationship to her BF, and LOVES her job. She’s cool under pressure, and manages to be the only ethical person in the entire investigation. I loved her. I especially loved the little asides about her transform. She’s the only person in the entire novel who is comfortable with who she chooses to be.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Goldsmith has actually gone to one of his publishers (whose daughter he, y’know, brutally murdered) and has turned himself into custody. This publisher has brought on Martin Burke and Carol Neuman, two awesome psychologists, to enter Goldsmith’s mind and figure out why he’d commit such a crime. They do and they discover that pathology is terrifyingly contagious. :intones: They now know what evil lurks in the hearts of men! Anyways, this side story was a bit less compelling than that of Richard Fettle, one of Goldsmith’s untherapied friends, and Jill, the AI project grappling with self-hood. Both of these characters struggle to emerge from the shadows of some of their greatest influences. More importantly, they do so without the soothing panacea of therapy. For Jill, this means accepting fear and unfairness as some of the defining aspects of self-consciousness. For Fettle, this means accepting that someone who’s your friend can do some astonishingly cruel things.
All this, set in the eve of 2047… the binary millenium.
*Also: she can control her nipples, her fertility, and her level of arousal. I thought it was interesting that even though her being a transform wasn’t overtly about sexual freedom/choice, it gave her more opportunities professionally and greater agency in her personal life.