The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Scotsman Paul J. McAuley, a past winner of the Philip K. Dick Award, proves himself to be one of the more inventive writers on the science-fiction scene with Red Dust. As in his critically acclaimed Eternal Light (1991), McAuley presents a future speculation that is dystopian in its orientation by combining science with high-tech mysticism and spiritual allegory.

The novel begins with a simple sentence: “Mars was dying.” The reader is catapulted into a world that is at once familiar and odd. It is the second year of the Silence of the Emperor. The emperor is an artificial intelligence, and the human-machine Consensus has persuaded it that its human subjects should abandon their organic forms and join the greater virtual reality. The human subjects with whom the Consensus is concerned are Tibetan slave laborers that the Chinese have used to terraform Mars, using the Ten Thousand Year Plan to lead to the Great Sky Road.

Rains come when the planet’s water, which was released during the terraforming operation, slowly locks itself back into the planet’s rocks. The King of Cats—a sentient machine on the planet Jupiter, with a reconstructed personality—has a cunning plan to overcome the silent emperor and the Consensus.

Wei Lee sets out from the Bitter Waters danwei. He is unaware that his journey will carry him to the far ends of the planet and beyond. Lee, a lowly contract agronomist technician...

(The entire section is 489 words.)