i09 posted online a few sample chapters of Cowboy Angels, the new SF novel by Paul McAuley, and after engulfing them hungrily, I thought I’d finally found a science fiction writer comparable to the mainstream’s James Lee Burke.
I wish. Unfortunately, the quality seen in Paul McAuley’s early chapters drops with each twist in the novel’s convoluted plot, and what we have left in Cowboy Angels is the first novel in what I assume will be a thriller/SF trilogy about a special ops agent repeatedly chasing his best friend and former agent through “Turing gates” — transporters/windows into parallel universes that were first created in the 1960s. (This discovery was made in the novel’s base reality, called The Real. Parallel universes are called “sheaves” — and this, perhaps, is the most interesting twist to me: the author does not use our reality as the Real or base universe. Our world is known as the Nixon Sheaf, which amuses me greatly.)
The story begins with a cool murder mystery: someone is crossing into parallel worlds and killing the same woman in each sheaf, and our protagonist, Stone, must stop the killer.
Great premise — but it goes downhill after a lot of universe-hopping that is just way too confusing. And there is one overall flaw: it’s the idiot plot. To keep the plot of the book moving forward, the protagonist has to be an idiot and keep playing his friend’s mind games (“Just trust me,” he keeps saying). Add to this a semi-sentient time-traveling machine that comes out of nowhere, almost deus-ex-machina-like, and you have a muddle of a story that, frankly, I will not continue on to Book Two.
It was a great idea. Too bad it got messed up in the storytelling.