Chasing the Phoenix by Michael Swanwick
Release Date: August, 2015
In the distant future, Surplus arrives in China dressed as a Mongolian shaman, leading a yak which carries the corpse of his friend, Darger. The old high-tech world has long since collapsed, and the artificial intelligences that ran it are outlawed and destroyed. Or so it seems.
Darger and Surplus, a human and a genetically engineered dog with human intelligence who walks upright, are a pair of con men and the heroes of a series of prior Swanwick stories. They travel to what was once China and invent a scam to become rich and powerful. Pretending to have limited super-powers, they aid an ambitious local warlord who dreams of conquest and once again reuniting China under one ruler. And, against all odds, it begins to work, but it seems as if there are other forces at work behind the scenes. Chasing the Phoenix is a sharp, slick, witty science fiction adventure that is hugely entertaining from Michael Swanwick, one of the best SF writers alive.
The first five chapters (about 80 pages) were released on NetGalley as a ‘read now’ preview – I haven’t read anything by this author previously, and the author’s note warns that he writes of a China he hasn’t seen (though he has been there, seen meaning he writes of a China he hasn’t experienced), and that the reader shouldn’t mistake it for the real China. With that warning, I dive in.
We meet a name known as Surplus, who is escorting the corpse of his friend through fields of tea and sugarcane, noting groups of soldiers passing as well as trains of war-materials, such as weaponry and supplies.
We learn on this first page that Surplus has a tail, paws and a face that he needs to hide – at least in the city of Brocade. That’s certainly all I need to read in order to be captivated – especially as he then tells that he came from a land where there is no disease, nor old age, magical water… but they can’t cure the little thing known as death, so he has come to seek the Infallible Physician.
There on I’m too captivated by the preview to bother with this review – it’s well written, mysterious yet inviting, and I can’t wait to see how this becomes science fiction rather than the straight fantasy it appears to be initially. Bring it on!