(Cosmos Books; £16, 348 pages, paperback; October 1 2002.)
Chaos descends on the communities of Zaïdmouth
the isolated, extremist Shrines of the Green Man and of the Sea attempt
to wrest control from the matriarchal hegemony. The result is a flower
crash, a dramatic collapse of the biomechanical environment that supports
Zaïdmouth's culture. With the extinction of thousands of species
and the spread of an oppressive monoculture threatened, it falls to
Manserphine, cleric of the Shrine of Our Sister Crone and the Interpreter
for Zaïdmouth's virtual forum, the Garden, to resolve Zaïdmouth's
social issues in the interests of all.
Flowercrash is another stand-alone novel from Stephen Palmer,
but again we find ourselves in familiar territory. A hybrid of technology
and the natural environment; a struggle between humanist and mechanistic
ideologies; and the interplay of mind, body and morality, examined here
as in Palmer's two Kray novels primarily from a feminist perspective.
Ecological issues are clearly back on the agenda, but Flowercrash
is not the disaster novel that Memory Seed and Glass were.
Here the immediate threat is not that Zaïdmouth might be wiped from
the face of the earth, but rather that it might fall under the subjugation
of a dictatorial sub-section of its populace, that sub-section's limited
viewpoint being mirrored in the environment it would control. The ecological
impact of such a paradigm shift must come second; the first and foremost
consideration here, it would seem, is the political impact.
At the heart of this story is the question of whether or not there
is room in the Garden for the Sea-Clerics and Green Man separatists.
Should the Garden give a political voice to Zaïdmouth's most extreme
monomaniacal elements, or should it exclude parts of the community from
decision-making processes? Not an easily answered question, and I think
Palmer's refusal to take this situation at face value is commendable.
Other readers may disagree with his solution, but that's politics for
I feel I should mention at this point that Flowercrash contains
super-powered electronic intelligences, too, although this time we have
some on both sides. Throughout the book a trio of network entities do
ideological battle, with Zaïdmouth's future at stake, through the
artificial networks and in concert with like-minded humans. Baigurgône,
believing that a state of pure, electronic mind is the key to power,
soon falls in with the clerics of the Shrine of the Green Man, and in
particular the brutal Nuïy, who similarly believe in divorcing their
intellects absolutely from their emotions. Zoahnône, who wants
all network entities to be tied to gynoid bodies, befriends Manserphine
and her friends at the Determinate Inn, all thoroughly emotional people
looking to reform a repressed society. With these super-AIs influencing
events, it'd be hard to avoid, well, deus ex machina, so it's
probably for the best that they're mostly sidelined in favour of the
As befits a book that advocates the power of emotion, Flowercrash
is jam-packed with powerful scenes, both uplifting and shocking (and
frequently within the same chapter). It's a credit to Palmer's writing
that his characters demand such investment from the reader, and with
some richly peculiar scenery to boot Flowercrash makes for very
satisfying reading. Hopefully more is to come.
Review by John Toon.
Elsewhere in infinity plus: