Review of DANCING WITH BEARS by Michael Swanwick
THE POSTUTOPIAN ADVENTURES OF DARGER AND SURPLUS
Night Shade Books, May 2011
The world is an ugly place with the ruins of technological civilization everywhere, angry A.I. devices scheming to destroy their human creators, and continued war between human survivors. A caravan traveling between the Caliph in Byzantium and his ally, the duke of Moscovy, brings a bevy of beautiful Byzantine women genetically designed to provide pleasure (of all kinds including intellectual as well as physical), along with an ambassador, a small army of genetically modified neanderthals and a couple of confidence men who attached themselves earlier. When cyber-wolves attack, wounding the ambassador, he decides to end the mission, have the women killed, and return the neanderthals to Byzantium. Fortunately for the women, confidence men Dager and Surplus are able to substitute a forged will, and continue the journey with dog-man Surplus as nominal ambassador.
Moscow is home to countless plots as generals, secret agents, religious zealots and underworld mutants vie for power. Although the Duke of Moscovy is supposedly all-powerful, he is never seen... something of a challenge for the beautiful women sent to be his brides. While the head of the Duke's secret service plots his overthrow, a group of holy men pursue a deeper plan...to bring the hand of god, in the form of complete destruction, to Moscow.
Author Michael Swanwick creates an intriguing future world with genetically modified people, underground demon-A.I.s, and strange Russians pursuing their ideals without concern for anyone who gets in their way. In this world, Darger and Surplus hope to make off with some of the incredible treasures of Russia's past, but staying alive proves to be something of a challenge. Even the beautiful brides grow increasingly frustrated and, while they may have been created to serve as entertainment, they are truly dangerous.
I enjoyed Stanwick's created world, but I enjoyed his characters even more. While Surplus and Darger were interesting, Pepsicolva and Zoesophia really steal the show. DANCING WITH BEARS was an enjoyable treat--hard to put down.
Too generous? Too stingy. Or did I miss the whole point? Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll publish the best letters I get so let me know if I can use your name.
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