Six months ago, I knew David Marusek only as the author of the haunting story, "The Wedding Album", winner of the Sturgeon Award in 2000, collected in that year's Dozois collection and also in Dozois' Best of the Best collection. Then we ended up sharing a hotel room in Glasgow at WorldCon in August, so I got to know this laid back, courteous guy rather well.
The reason he'd taken the effort to come all the way from Alaska to Scotland was at least as much to try and do business around his novel, Counting Heads, which was coming out in a few months. I made a mental note to keep an eye out for it in paperback, once the time came. And then I happened to notice - via Library Thing - Cory Doctorow's review, which pushed all the right buttons for me - comparison (favourable) with Benjamin Rosenbaum and Ted Chiang, and indeed with "The Wedding Album"; and was further prodded by sbisson here. A quick check around the blogosphere reveals that the positive reviews considerably outnumber the negative. So I thought I would look out for it in New York on Monday, and indeed found a copy.
And it is excellent. I tend to find myself unexcited by the possibilities of nanotechnology to change society; authors who are excited by it often write only characters who are equally excited, or else appalled, by it. David Marusek here has an entirely believable society, with love, parenthood, age, and death - and loneliness, in a world of material plenty - which happens to also have vast amounts of nanotechnology. (I confess I did find the summary of the setting inside the dust jacket helpful to orient myself, but probably needed it mainly because I started reading the book on my second transtalantic flight of the week.) Sure, there is also a plot - one of the oldest around, in that it's effectively aboout a political murder and an attempt to prevent another murder. And there's lots of whizz-bang action in the grand finale. But it's striking to find a nanotech book that actually has a plot and a real ending, something I've complained about of others with that theme.
Two other comparisons that occurred to me: some aspects of the mother/daughter relationship and its impact on the mother's company reminded me a bit of Cyteen, which I read almost exactly a year ago; comparisons are entirely in Marusek's favour. Also I thought I spotted some homage to the Zelazny/Saberhagen collaboration Coils, surely itself an example of cyberpunk before its time. I was pleased to see an overt reference to "The Wedding Album" making it clear that this is the same future; it seems tidier somehow.