Spin Control

by Chris Moriarty

Cover image

Series: Spin #2
Publisher: Bantam
Copyright: July 2006
Printing: July 2007
ISBN: 0-553-58625-1
Format: Mass market
Pages: 590

Buy at Powell's Books

Spin Control is a sequel to Spin State. It jumps a bit into the future and shifts character focus, making it somewhat readable without reading the previous book. Even with having read Spin State, however, I had to refresh my memory for references and characters. Having the background helps.

Spin Control opens from the perspective of one of the Syndicate, the tightly-controlled and cloned, genetically engineered species that spun off from humanity and played an ancillary role in Spin State. Arkady isn't an inspiring protagonist. He's a wide-eyed innocent, rarely in control of anything that happens to him, constantly baffled by humans, and occasionally whining. With that and a slow start, I was a bit worried. Unnecessarily.

After tackling coal mining in the first book of the series, Moriarty turns the audacity up a notch and tackles the Israeli/Palestinian conflict from several hundred years in the future. The war is much the same with some new high-tech twists. It serves as the backdrop of a twisty spy plot that mixes seamlessly with an SF alien virus problem and a relationship story between a human and an AI. Spin Control is as long as Spin State, but this time Moriarty moves somewhat away from the technobabble and fills the book with people and plot.

Putting Israel into a novel like this is a huge risk, even with the mostly uncontroversial "why can't we all get along" message that Moriarty does have. It's hard to drop in something so charged and seem fair. Spin Control's focus is less on the politics (and almost entirely not on the Palestinians) and instead on the human cost of war to the people fighting it and on the bizarre world of Earth politics after technological development and ecological crash leaves Earth as a poor backwater offering water to the rich inhabitants of the orbitals. Arkady has defected to Israel with information about a virus that can be used as a weapon, and Israel is offering him to the highest bidder. Cohen, the AI who features so prominently in Spin State, has his own ties with Israel through his creator and his own past involvement with the Israeli Mossad. The Palestinians are interested, of course, as is the UN and the Americans.

The first part of this book sets the background of Earth through the eyes of Arkady, the innocent, and Cohen and Li, the veterans. Once Moriarty gets warmed up, there are some brilliant bits of description.

"She asked him to close the window. He refused."

The young woman was now actually pulling up her shirt and pointing to her stomach while the ultraorthodox averted his eyes in horror. And the scars weren't cosmetic at all, it turned out; they were old shrapnel wounds.

"Then," Cohen translated on the fly, "he told her to cover up her arms if she was cold. So she told him to fuck off. So he told her to get on the next Ring-bound shuttle if she didn't want to be a real Jew. And now she's shouting about how she spent two years on the Line and she doesn't have to take this shit from some schmuck ultraorthodox draft dodger and how would he like to see her scars. All of them." He grinned, caught between pride and embarassment. "Welcome to Israel."

There's more like this. The battlefield and its effects on the people living near it felt amazingly real.

Israel and Palestine, after centuries of unexpected peace after a bombing of the Temple Mount, have fallen back into an AI-controlled war across a no-man's-land created by the bombing (which, when named, had me laughing too hard to read) and a cold war of intelligence and double-agents. An old friend of Cohen may be one of those agents. Another old friend is the head of Mossad. And Arkady is bumbling about in the middle, trying desperately to understand which side will help him save his lover.

Arkady grew on me as the story continued, particularly once his story (told in flashback) of a Syndicate colonization mission gone wrong picks up steam. The Syndicate is a collective utopia with a huge emphasis on non-hierarchical group dynamics. When materialized as a spaceship crew and analyzed after the fact by Arkady, those group dynamics were surprisingly fascinating. The Syndicate is almost like humans as we know them, but their value structures are just different enough to provide an alienating lens for human interactions that are so familiar we don't pay much attention to them. I wish my college small group dynamics class had been this interesting.

Cohen and Li, though, are the highlights. I was a bit disappointed with the banality of some of their problems, or at least Cohen's reactions to them, but I still love watching them together. Moriarty does an excellent job portraying a relationship that takes place mostly in shared space separate from physical reality, spending time on tricky questions of privacy and identity and adding bits of humor in Li's relationship with some of Cohen's components and associates. The payoff from the climax of of Spin State was much appreciated, and Moriarty has a gift for AI characterization.

Spin Control did bog down a touch towards the end, and I'm not sure that the climax quite measured up to the build-up. Some parts of it were a touch too easy. But Spin Control is even stronger than Spin State, with less pointless technobabble, more humor in what technobabble remained (router/decomposer is a wonderful character), more of the good AI bits from Spin State, and generally more authorial control over the plot. I tend to shy away from complex spy novels because I have to juggle too many names and motives in my head to keep from getting lost, but Moriarty does a great job helping the reader through the plot. And I (as someone who admittedly has never been there and has no direct involvement in it) thought the Israeli and Palestinian setting and background were exceptional.

Highly recommended. I'm curious what genre Moriarty will alloy with, now that we've had a detective story and a spy story, and if the next book can possibly be even better.

Followed by Ghost Spin.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Reviewed: 2007-09-19

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