cover image Red Dust

Red Dust

Paul J. McAuley. William Morrow & Company, $22 (392pp) ISBN 978-0-688-13793-9

This is not so much a story of character as of place-specifically, the partially terraformed planet of Mars, nearly 600 years in the future. Through a kiss, Wei Lee, an ``itinerant agronomist technician,'' is infected with technoviruses that give him godlike attributes. One of the many side effects of the viruses allows Lee to tune in directly to the broadcasts of ``The King of Cats'' (Elvis by any other name) as Lee races around the planet, attempting to affect his own destiny and to release the trapped water that will make Mars fertile. During his journeys, Lee is rescued by yak-roping cowboys, meets with mutant dolphins, changes the nature of cyberspace and learns how to act heroically. McAuley (Eternal Light) is most successful in his wonderfully lively technology and in the way he melds the philosophies of the various cultures (Tibetan, Han, Yankee) that populate his Mars. The story bounces so swiftly from cavern to cyberspace that glitz, glitter and intriguing technical puzzles handily conceal the lack of depth; though this makes for a disorienting trip, it also ensures an exhilarating one. (Nov.)