Crescent City Rhapsody

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

When mysterious electromagnetic pulses from space first strike Earth in 2012, they disable the world’s telecommunications and other electronic systems. Zeb Aberly, a brilliant and eccentric scientist, is one of the few researchers—possibly the only one—using antiquated equipment, not based on electronics, that can record the pulses. Zeb flees for his life from U.S. government forces that want his data, and for years he lives in hiding and attempts to decode the pattern of signals.

The electromagnetic pulses, termed the Silence, occur at irregular intervals in the succeeding years, forcing various technological adjustments. Nanotechnology develops rapidly, to the point that entire cities can be re-formed through the use of miniature robots. The new technologies allow small groups to become more powerful than putative governments. New Orleans is under the control of Marie Laveau, a mysterious figure who is murdered in the first chapter but resurrected through a scientific process she helped develop. In her new incarnation, she attempts to build a floating city that can survive in the new social environment. With that end in mind, she attracts the top scientific minds to New Orleans. Among them are Zeb, and Jason, who has unusual abilities as a result of his conception near the time of the first Silence.

Rival forces around the world do battle in “information wars” using thought viruses, delivered by nanotechnology-derived bee-like robots; these viruses can change the thought patterns of entire populations. As information wars remove power from governments and put it in the hands of private groups, uncontrolled information surges change the shape of cities around the world. The new technology reveals its power to create great beauty or enslave millions.

Crescent City Rhapsody, the third book in Kathleen Ann Goonan’s Nanotech Cycle, has no plot as such; instead, it follows a few key characters and describes key episodes in the evolution of the new Earth that Goonan described in the previous two books in the cycle. The main lines of action converge in New Orleans, which at the book’s climax is reshaped by a biotechnology virus. The virus needs a rhythm to guide how it shapes the city, and that rhythm is provided by the Silence. More mysteries of the Silence are resolved when the various characters meet and share their knowledge.