Tuesday, August 16, 2011

"7th Sigma" by Steven Gould

At the start of this book, I was pleased to see a quote from Kim by Rudyard Kipling, since that's one of my all-time favorite novels. But I was really surprised to turn the page and find that 7th Sigma starts exactly the same way, with a boy named Kim ("Kimball" in the earlier book, "Kimble" here) playing King of the Hill with other boys.

The similarities don't stop there. Steven Gould has crafted a story that's strongly reminiscent of Kipling's tale. And obviously, that's no accident. (Maybe Gould loves Kim as much as I do.)

Of course, the setting of 7th Sigma is completely different. Set in a near-future American Southwest, it actually feels more like the past. That's the result of a plague of self-replicating mechanical insects which have eliminated the use of metal - and electronics of any kind - throughout the region.

No one knows where the robotic "bugs" came from. But they eat all kinds of metal, and use it to create still more bugs. They're powered by sunlight (photovoltaic wings). And although they avoid water, they'll go through anything else to get to metal, so you don't want to be wearing metal filings in your teeth, an artificial hip, or a pacemaker. In fact, you don't want to be anywhere near metal.

Electromagnetic radiation will attract them even faster than metal will. But nothing causes them to swarm as abundantly as destroying one of them. Even accidentally crushing one is usually a death sentence, with bugs drilling through anything and everything in the area.

At first, the American military tried to fight back, but their high-tech weapons just fed the bugs. So now, the American Southwest is a territory with its own special lifestyle. People still live there, but without metal, without computers, without even radio. In many ways, they've returned to an earlier time.

Like his namesake in Kipling's novel, Kimble offers to guide a stranger and finds a friend and mentor. But rather than an innocent Tibetan monk, she's a martial arts instructor. Young Kimble isn't an orphan, but he might as well be, so she takes him under her wing.

Later, though he's still a child, Kimble starts working undercover for the Territorial Rangers. That, too, is strongly reminiscent of Kipling's tale. But Kimble's adventures are his own. And throughout the book, there's a deeper puzzle, the question of where the bugs came from. And perhaps,... where they're going.

7th Sigma caught my attention immediately, and kept it. I really couldn't put it down. I started it early last night and didn't stop reading until after midnight, when I finally read the last page. It's a quick, easy, entertaining adventure with a very sympathetic hero. But as I say, there's a deeper puzzle here.

The bugs aren't just an excuse for a unique setting. There's clearly something else going on. There's some reason why they appeared, though we don't know what that might be. And it's obvious that we haven't seen the end result.

So I'm sure we haven't seen the last of Kimble, either. No doubt this is just the introduction. Yes, it's a complete book in itself, but I do expect to see Kimble again.

PS. This is the first book I've read by Steven Gould since I started this blog, so it's the first one I've reviewed here. But I've read almost everything he's written, and I haven't been disappointed even once. Admittedly, he's not very prolific. I really wish he'd write faster. But I certainly can't complain about how well he writes.

I would especially recommend Jumper (forget about the movie - seriously, just forget it) and Wildside. But all of his books are great fun, and that definitely includes 7th Sigma.

And, er, if you haven't read Rudyard Kipling's Kim, do yourself a favor and give that a try, too. True, it's not science fiction. But the cultures it depicts are so exotic and so alien to my own experience that it might as well be.


Unknown said...

I did not read the post; just glazed over to see if you recommended the book. It's not available at the library yet; I'm looking forward to it. Wildside is one of the better novels I've read in recent years.

Unknown said...

I don't know what I did to be unknown...a slip here or somewhere. I'm Ann J.

WCG said...

Hi, Ann. Yes, I do recommend the book. And yeah, I loved Wildside, too.

BTW, I don't normally put spoilers in my reviews. When I do, I clearly warn about them ahead of time.

But I understand wanting to read a book without any preconceptions, so it's probably not just spoilers you're worried about. That's quite reasonable.