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Review by Mark L. Olson

Mother of Storms

by John Barnes

With Mother of Storms, John Barnes has proven that his previous successes (Orbital Resonance and A Million Open Doors) were not flukes. Barnes has to be considered one of today’s best SF writers. And with any kind of luck he’ll stick with it for the next thirty years.

Mother of Storms takes place about thirty years from now. The UN has become dominant and at the start of the book the US President is maneuvering desperately to avoid losing any more sovereignty to the UN. The UN undertakes a nuclear strike against the Siberian Republic’s secret–and illegal–nuclear weapons caches buried in the Arctic seabed. The explosions result in the release of huge amount of methane from the methane clathrates buried there. The methane causes a near-runaway greenhouse effect with global temperatures going up by 10 degrees F in a matter of months.

The hot, wet oceans are perfect breeding grounds for hurricanes which rapidly develop into storms of unprecedented strength, duration and number.

I don’t really care for the style Barnes used–I’m told that it’s the thriller-best-seller style where a half dozen stories are followed simultaneously by switching from one thread to another every few pages. I don’t care for it, but I can certainly live with it.

I particularly enjoyed Barnes’ cynical approach to government and above all the media. Central to the story is XV, a system which allows the ‘viewer’ to directly experience events from an actor/reporter’s perspective. Barnes extrapolates today’s trends to yield Passionet, the world’s most popular “news” network. Passionet’s reporters roam the world letting viewers directly experience events–with frequent bouts of sex between the surgically enhanced reporters to keep peoples’ interest.

I didn’t find any parts which were unnecessary padding nor did I see any sex or violence which didn’t fit into the story. I did find a few too many leaps in the plot where people did things for inadequate (beyond advancing the plot, that is) reasons. (For example, is it really at all plausible that the last US astronaut at the space station would be chosen to reactivate the mothballed Lunar industrial complex? Much more likely a team on the ground, even if he was more qualified. And why did it get mothballed to start with–the story’s explanation, while clever and interesting strikes me as inadequate.)

I particularly enjoyed the ambiguous character of Gates, a multi-billionaire who made his fortune by playing the patent system who turns out to be a pretty decent person, even if he continues to be a parasite on the rest of humanity. I also thought that Barnes did a nice job with the growing transcendence of the humans-turned-AIs. (Though I did think that it was a bit of a cop-out to end he story just as Humanity unknowingly approached Vinge’s Singularity–but, then, who can write of a true Singularity?)

A few cavils aside, I like this book a lot. Highly recommended.