/ Slant / — Greg Bear

Mary Choy, Martin Burke, and Jill return in this sequel to Bear’s Queen of Angels, which focuses on the growing crises facing the world of the therapied.

Mary’s in the middle of reversing her transform. She’s gradually returning to her “real” self, something that’s drawing mixed reactions from those around her. Her new boss in Seattle is oddly salacious, her lover cuts ties with her over it, and she herself isn’t quite sure what to make of this evolving body. When she gets drawn into an extremely strange case — involving nanotechnology, the sex industry, and Yox, a kind of filmic virtual reality — she meets Alice, a sex care worker who was with one of the financiers of this strange operation minutes before he died. This financier, Terrence Crest, was a troubled man, with many secrets… and those secrets have now sucked Alice into a world of hurt.

Martin’s lost a lot of street-cred with his fellow Mentats, and is now doing private practice for people who need a little check in but aren’t in need of a full-on dose of therapy. He’s doing all right… until Terrence Crest bursts into his office, demanding help. This, and a sudden upsurge of psychosis across the US, draws him into Mary’s investigation. Martin’s still in recovery from having his professional reputation ruined in light of his involvement in the treatment of a serial murderer. In the wake of all the decline of the therapied world, he’s left wondering what it means to be a good shrink.

Bear’s futuristic West Coast continues to be incredibly fun, vital, and compelling. Jill, the artificial intelligence at the center of many of this work’s events, continues to be a vital, charming character, as are Mary and Alice. I also greatly enjoyed Jonathan, a committed father and husband in the middle of a marital crisis. Including characters like Jonathan gave Bear the chance to go more in-depth into the world of combs, the Towers inhabited by the moneyed elite. This upper-class world is one of vast conservatism. Chloe, Jonathan’s wife, is pressured to quit her job after marriage and takes drugs to hype up her maternal instinct after the birth of her first child. Another (female!) character wants women to go back to traditional childbirth, even though ex utero birth is safer and less painful for both mother and baby. This world, whose bosses think they can nickle-and-dime their way into world domination, is the center of this novel’s plot.

There were so many things I liked about this book. Jonathan, I loved because this character presented a refreshingly nuanced presentation of heterosexual masculinity. Normally I don’t dig that,  but it was very well done. Alice, I loved because she chose to be a sex care worker. She’s pretty satisfied with her life, and while she does face social censure for it, and does rank it (like she feels like she’s at a level beyond being a call-girl), her discussion of the mechanics of a legalized sex industry is one of the most complete and most realistic I’ve seen. Mary, I loved because she remains herself — loyal to her job, a passionately dedicated police officer, and a refreshing rock of goodness in an increasingly corrupt world.


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