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Queen City Jazz
Kathleen Ann Goonan
Tor, 1994
Buy It? Oh mais oui.

I am firmly of the opinion that very few people can properly imagine just how much the world would change (will change?) with the advent of nanotechnology. Goonan is one of them. This is a book I have to admire just for the sheer "I would never have thought of that!"-ness of it, even without any additional qualities, with which it is well-stocked. For instance, there are the Bees.

The novel's opening barely hints at the strangeness to come, and in fact rests upon a sequence of fairly well-used genre tropes. It begins in a small community of neo-Shakers. They have peaceful lives in a post-collapse America, guarding their tiny world against the ever-present danger of Plague, staying far away from anything that smacks of forbidden and incomprehensibly dangerous "nan," and occasionally recruiting orphaned children from the wreckage of nearby places like Dayton—although never, ever an Enlivened city like Cinninnati. Verity is one of those children, just reaching adulthood when her "family" falls apart, suddenly and completely. She must (of course) travel to Cincinnati, which exerts a compelling draw upon her.

That's where the standard SF "young person on a quest through a post-apocalyptic landscape" ends, and what she finds in the Queen City is stranger than she (and I) could have imagined. Cincinnati is a Flower City, wholly built and maintained through nan. The great Flowers grow atop the buildings there, ten feet tall, and the Bees go from one to the next, carrying the information that keeps each part, and each person, aware of what goes on elsewhere. It's a city of few living people, of ghostly holograms and peculiar art, stunning beauty and breathtaking power.

It's living city that is somehow sick, where imitation appears to have killed creativity, where scenes are acted and reenacted in perpetuity by actors who sometimes forget they are acting, and when they remember aren't sure that it matters. A city that needs Verity and has planned very carefully for her arrival... again. It all has to do with the Bees.

The plot gets very strange, very fast, and would be difficult to summarize even if I wanted to give it all away. It's a book to be savored; Goonan has an excellent command of language, and her imagery and emotions are vividly conveyed.

Two more books follow this one; I have yet to read them, but I hope to get to them soon. Perhaps on the plane for the honeymoon....

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© 2000 Rebecca J. Stevenson