Title: Cowboy Angels
Author: Paul McAuley
Release Date: January 2011
Reviewed by: Daniel Burton
Buy from: Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com
The first Turing gate, a mere hundred nanometers across, is forced open in 1963, at the high-energy physics laboratory in Brookhaven; three years later, the first man to travel to an alternate history takes his momentous step, and an empire is born.If you aren’t paying attention, you might forget that Paul McAuley’s new novel, Cowboy Angels, is science fiction. Don’t get me wrong: there’s no doubt that it is science fiction. But McAuley has written a clever, quick, and fast moving novel that has all the elements of a great spy thriller, too. It’s a blend of genres that McAuley pulls off brilliantly, and it makes for an exciting and fast ride, a page turner perfect for a summer vacation or a rainy weekend indoors.
For fifteen years, the version of America that calls itself the Real has used its Turing gate technology to infiltrate a wide variety of alternate Americas, rebuilding those wrecked by nuclear war, fomenting revolutions and waging war to free others from communist or fascist rule, and establishing a Pan-American Alliance. Then a nation exhausted by endless strife elects Jimmy Carter on a reconstruction and reconciliation ticket, the CIA's covert operations are wound down, and the Real begins to wage peace rather than war.
But some people believe that it is the Real's manifest destiny to impose its idea of truth, justice, and the American way in every known alternate history, and they're prepared to do anything to reverse Carter's peacenik doctrine. When Adam Stone, a former CIA field officer, one of the Cowboy Angels who worked covertly in other histories, volunteers for reactivation after an old friend begins a killing spree across alternate histories, his mission uncovers a startling secret about the operation of the Turing gates and leads him into the heart of an audacious conspiracy to change the history of every America in the multiverse--including our own.
Before I found science fiction as a teenager, I read cold war thrillers and spy novels. John le Carre, Tom Clancy, and Robert Ludlum were standard fare, my favorite scenes included dead drops, femme fatales, secret codes, and high speed car chases. There were few things I enjoyed more than watching a frantic Jason Bourne lethally and methodically evade assassins or Jack Ryan foil an international plot to destroy the President. I like my spies smart, decisive, and one step ahead of the chase.
Adam Stone, McAuley’s lead spy, is just that kind of spy. He lives in a parallel universe to our own, and he is one of the “cowboy angels” CIA officers that are sent to the Americas in parallel universes to help promote democracy and “the American way.” But now, Stone has retired, moved to an unpopulated version of the island Manhattan in one of the many parallel universes he has access to, and lives a rural life hunting prehistoric saber tooth tigers and giant sloths. He’s even fallen in love. Then, in a day, his past comes back to haunt him, suddenly he is on the run, hunting rogue agents, and being hunted by deadly assassins. It’s spy-versus-spy at its best. I loved it.
Nary a page passes without the action building, the plot twisting, and complications mounting. As another review put it, it’s helter-skelter, and our heroes have no chance to stop. The pages almost turn themselves. It’s great fiction, it’s exciting fiction, and I loved every moment of it.
About Daniel Burton
Dan Burton lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he practices law by day and practices everything else by night. You can follow him on his blog lawafterthebar.wordpress.com where he muses on the law, current events, books, and ideas. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.