Saturday, 31 December 2011

Review | Equations of Life - Simon Morden

The cover... It burns. Aesthetics aside, Equations of Life is a book which makes me reconsider my gloomy views of the post-apocalyptic. The world of the Metrozone trilogy might be a nuclear wasteland, the titular Metrozone the last city in England, but it's also a lot of fun to read about. A short, fast-paced technothriller, Equations of Life's success is due in no small part to its unlikely hero: Samuil Petrovitch.

A physicist (on the trail of the Unified Field Theory - but then, who isn't?),  an immigrant, and possessed of a knack for not getting involved, Petrovitch has lived on his scholarship funds - working with his companion, Doctor Pif. So, what happens? His knack gives out: he saves Sonja Oshicora from kidnappers, and ends up in a war between the city's two crime organisations. But there's more. Threats of nuclear war, a quantum computer, a very militant nun (Maddy), and something called the New Machine Jihad...

Sometimes huge escalation in conflict scales makes a novel ridiculous. Sometimes, as in Equations, it just makes it fun. It's done with imagination, verve, and careful lampshading - and it works out brilliantly. I mean, a physicist against the world: why not? Petrovitch is a fantastic protagonist. Clever, competent, but also shadier than he looks - and willing to make some tougher decisions. (He's also, on occasion, hilarious). The side characters are also well developed and interesting, especially when confronted with Petrovitch's chaos - and his even more chaotic plans... Although the relationship with Maddy seemed rapid, the brevity of the book as a whole makes this acceptable; while other characters, like Oshicora himself, are wonderful.

This book is impossible to predict: and not in the 'merely very improbable' way. So many new events, objects and characters are introduced later on that developments are entirely unpredictable. This isn't a slow, thoughtful book, though - so it's no deus-ex-machinae for you, especially since the additions rarely help Petrovitch... The ending? Well, it surprised me. Don't come expecting too many familiar tropes, either. While some are played straight - in the beginning - others are subverted, again adding to the novel's unpredictable nature (although I'm not much of a post-apocalyptic reader, so a dedicated fan might see more of the familiar - I don't know).

All things considered, this is a refreshingly fast-paced and unconventional read. If you're looking for something lighter - physically or otherwise - this is likely for you; likewise, if you're a fan of unusual protagonists, or smply want to avoid the passive, this is also a great read. It may be short by the standards of, say, epic fantasy, but this is a great addition to your shelf.

Find it here: UK US


  1. This book has been sitting on my shelf for aaaaaaaages - and now I'm annoyed with myself for not having read it yet! It sounds like a whole lot of fun.

  2. It really is - lots of action, but completely atypical action (gun toting nuns, anyone?), as well as some great characters. I love Petrovitch's approach (and the very different reactions of everybody to his consistent Russian swearing :P )

  3. This is not about the book, but because i wanted to let you know that i picked you as one of my favorite blogs for 2011 at my blog: here


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