Mir Alexander Besher (Orbit, £5.99, 306 pages, paperback; published 7 January 1999.)
This is the second book in Besher's much vaunted Rim series, the first being Rim itself, the third Chi. Having not read Rim, I was tempted to do so in order to read Mir as a sequel, but decided to give Mir a try as a stand alone. From Rim's blurb, there are obvious links and continuities, but the series seems to have been designed to be read pretty much in any order. Certainly there was nothing in Mir that marred enjoyment by not having read its predecessor.
Besher's approach to a near future world of sentient tattoos, malevolent viruses and virtual avatars brings to my mind the work of Gibson, Jack Womack and Neil Stephenson. He has neither the dry plausibility of Gibson nor the streetwise attitude of Womack, and Stephenson is simply a better writer. Mir is witty and brimming with ideas and enthusiasm, but many of the ideas are second hand and in places Besher is trying too hard.
His pedigree certainly shines through in the book's Bond-like international settings (French Riviera, San Francisco, Hong Kong) as his bio states that he was born in China to Russian parents and raised in Japan, and he is a respected futurist and writer on the Asia-Pacific region. But that does not necessarily make him a good novelist. There is a tendency for Besher to lather the page in cross-cultural references, with every stranger on a street coming from a different (and usually, hip) part of the world or every item of hardware in a room having its future-hybrid brand name mentioned. Thirty pages in and I was ready to give up, as it appeared to me that Besher was attempting to emulate Womack (possibly the Russian affectations brought this particular author to mind) with none of that author's strong points. But I persevered and was glad that I did, as Besher calms down and finds his voice within a reasonable distance, and Mir then becomes enjoyable. Besher's characterisations improve over the length of the story but never rise above the adequate. There is some competent use of non-linear narrative, and many of the best segments are flashbacks or anecdotes of incidental characters.
There are writers who do this sort of story much better than Besher, but Mir is an enjoyable book and I got enough out of it to want to read more by him. Besher could be an author who is doing his growing up in public and may yet produce some interesting work.
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© Noel K Hannan 20 February 1999