Red Queen: The Substrate Wars begins with a quotation from Robert Heinlein’s 1950’s novella, The Man Who Sold the Moon: “There is nothing in this world so permanent as a temporary emergency.” This idea sets the tone of Kinnison’s novel and permeates all of the events within his fictional world.
The novel is set in a not-too-distant future world with events that mirror our own society: Readers will recognize similarities in events like the AIDS epidemic, the creation of agencies like Homeland Security, and how some people use online games like World of Warcraft and other social media to create connections and send messages in “the real world.” The differences between our world and the story world of Red Queen: The Substrate Wars lies in how much personal freedom has been reduced and how far technology has developed. As it states in the book blurb, the technology being created could either save the world or destroy it; the stakes are no longer just personal freedom versus governmental control. The characters are actually fighting their governments for the right for the human race to exist.
It is hard to discuss the novel without giving away huge spoilers. (Of course I have this problem with most of the novels I review!) I really enjoyed the chapters with the ALife Simulations. The narrative of these chapters focused on the evolutionary development of the artificial life forms. It traces them from the very start of their existence, focusing on the entire species rather than one character, and each ALife section relates in some way to the actions taken by the main characters in the novel.
My favorite character in the novel is Professor Walter Wilson. Kinnison creates a very interesting character. Wilson is a homosexual male who grew up in a world that initially did not tolerate this lifestyle, although the level of acceptance evolved, and even flourished, over time. He survived the AIDS epidemic, although his lover did not. Infected, Wilson has to take what he terms a “daily wonder pill” to prevent the progression of the disease. Because of this loss, he never developed another close, romantic relationship. Instead, he threw himself into his work. He flourished in the academic world, even winning a protest against University regulations in the past when a security officer removed a poster with an image of a gun from his office door. Wilson also had a positive impact on his students, who maintained contact with him even after they left the University.
The twist with this character comes with the reduction of personal freedoms in The Red Queen society. At the start of the novel, Wilson has come under fire from the University officials because he commented on a biological difference between the genders. Any statement that points out a difference between people is considered offensive and subject to censure. This, however, is not as simple as it appears on the surface. The censure may be retaliation for the protest he won in the past, it may be an issue because his former students have become leaders in the resistance against The Red Queen governments, or it may have something to do with the ALife simulation project Wilson is running. The University’s actions do encourage Wilson’s former and current students to rally behind him. It is not really a “call to arms;” rather, it is the situation that starts a chain of events and it is fascinating as a reader to watch each domino fall into place.
I did enjoy this novel and look forward to the second book in the trilogy!