cover image Kaleidoscope Century

Kaleidoscope Century

John Barnes. Tor Books, $21.95 (252pp) ISBN 978-0-312-85561-1

A stunning evocation of humanity's violent downward slide, Barnes's fourth SF novel is set on Mars during the early part of the 22nd century, in a universe chimerically similar to that of his first, Orbital Resonance. The novel consists primarily of a series of escapades undertaken by narrator Joshua Ali Quare, whose violent career path under the aegis of the Organization, a successor group to a super-efficient amalgam of KGB/Communist Party, is the ultra-leftist equivalent of many Heinlein protagonists. Born in 1968, Joshua had been recruited by the KGB in the late 20th century, which infected him with a virus that incapacitates him in a near-coma every 15 years, from which he awakens, rejuvenated, 10 years younger each time, but nearly amnesiac. Joshua has been ruthless in pursuit of his missions, most of which have concerned scientific discoveries. Like others around him, he has lost almost all human feeling: he voices only the occasional expression of regret after ``serbing'' a sorority or defiling his father's grave. The environment Barnes creates is appalling: Josh and his cohort-in-crime, Sadi, appear to delight in their repeated antisocial actions and attitudes. Josh spouts such homilies as ``if you don't want a brain to think the wrong thoughts, the surest way is to put a hole in it.'' Whether or not one is put off by the pervasive cynical mentality, as a picture of the degradation of society in the 22nd century, the novel is gripping. (June)