Souls in the Great Machine
by Sean McMullen
A book review by Mark L. Olson
Tor, 1999, 448 pp, $27.95.
The setting is post-apocalyptic Australia, 2000 years from now as a young woman librarian leaves home for a new job - she's moving to a new job because she is a gunfighter and has made too great a reputation and too many enemies at home. A librarian-gunfighter?
She takes a wind-train to Rochester, the city which hosts the central library, Libris. As she travels, she obsesses about The Call, a mysterious force which sweeps over the land every few weeks compelling people and all large mammals to mindlessly walk southwest, ultimately to their deaths by starvation or drowning. The reborn civilization has a host of clever devices, some mechanical and some architectural to defeat The Call.
Arriving at Libris, she advances very rapidly through the ranks - she's not only a dangerous gunslinger, but a brilliant librarian. (The book has been semi-seriously subtitled Fighting Samurai Librarians by some.)
Libris has a secret project, a computer made up of human processing elements - hundreds (later thousands) of people, some kidnapped, some convicts, who sit at desks and pass numbers around, doing pieces of calculations according to instructions. Zarvora, the Overliber, has reinvented the computer in a form immune to the ancient orbiting battle stations which zap electrical devices. She uses the Calculor to take over first Rochester and later the whole confederation, leaving her Overmayor of the Southeast.
Events start flowing faster and faster, there are wars and peaceful alliances. New peoples turn up, the beamflash network and the windtrain network expand rapidly. Technologies are rediscovered and even bigger wars are fought. Rebels rebel and a few people even find happiness.
This is a marvelous, fun book! Its sequel is The Miocene Arrow,
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