(Gollancz, £6.99, 424 pages, paperback, first published 2004.)
I read this the title gave me visions of giant insects -- a bit like
the slake moths in China Miéville's Perdido Street Station --
got up in jackboots and out for a kill but it's not like that at all;
and all the better for it.
Sometime in the near future a mysterious gunman, who feels a darkness
in his head, tries to assassinate an American president, fails, is imprisoned
and condemned to death. In 1977 Marrakech a young boy called Moz unwittingly
involves his girlfriend Malika in a gangland bombing which has unintended
consequences. A Chinese emperor, Chuang Tzu, the latest reincarnation
of a survivor from a generation starship which set out from Earth centuries
before, has his every whim indulged and every action beamed to millions
of people across the 2023 worlds of a fragmented Dyson sphere where
they all live.
The gunman, known as Prisoner Zero, may be a US citizen and for a long
while remains silent as to his motive but in a "dirty" protest
reveals knowledge of equations which promise the release of abundant
zero point energy.
The emperor has access to all his predecessor's memories (but we only
seem to get the first's) and believes his human servants to be figmentary
creations of an entity he calls The Librarian and whom he treats accordingly.
Chuang Tzu tries to ignore the Librarian but is sent messages from It
via butterflies. The information is released if Chuang Tzu allows the
butterflies to land on his hand.
The most engaging strand relates Moz's brutalised childhood and his
relationships with Malika, her family and a local policeman. There is
a hint of magic realism here but the events are nevertheless solidly
grounded; though the introduction of an American Rock star and his English
female manager, while necessary to the plot, struck an unlikely note
at first -- heightened when Moz's relationship with the woman becomes
Despite counter indications it isn't hard to work out who the failed
assassin actually is but still the three main strands of the novel take
a long time to thread together - a process not helped by a plethora
of viewpoint characters within two of them; and we get a mini biography
each for too many of the minor characters. In the meantime, though,
there is enough casual and institutionalised violence to suit readers
who like that kind of thing.
In all, there are enough ideas here to keep several novels ticking
over and there is a happy ending; as well as a sad one.
The Librarian's butterflies seem rather a strained reference to the
famous "Effect" of one's wing's but the novel - as its title
signals - is, of course, an elongated illustration of an aspect of Chaos
- or possibly Many Worlds -- Theory and of the fact that the problems
of two little people, metaphorical stamped butterflies, don't amount
to a hill of beans in this crazy mixed-up world of ours.
Finally, while by no means the worst in this respect I have read recently,
the book still contained an unfortunate number of typos to distract
me. For example, did everyone involved with this really not know the
difference between breath and breathe?
Once engaged by the three separate storylines the novel does rattle
along and I look forward to reading more from Grimwood.
Elsewhere in infinity plus: