(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Red Dust is a sprawling epic of evolution and exobiology, physics, and future history that challenges the nature of cyberspace while harking back to the writings of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Although the tone and style may resemble those of Burroughs, the content is more in keeping with the time in which the novel is written. McAuley employs high technology and cyberspace, viruses (his kiss is analogous to the AIDS virus), and anarchy, through the woman who gives Lee the kiss that promotes him to demigod status. McAuley taps into his time by using popular culture references, the most extended of which involve Elvis Presley as the King of Cats and his lyrics as a sort of scripture. His created world is a believable dystopian society ten thousand years in the future.

The conclusion of Red Dust is satisfying as it reaches into the human condition, from an Oriental philosophi-cal point of view. After Lee’s epic journey, Mars has changed, but its people have changed less than Lee imagined they would. The human condition endures. People love, and people laugh. They watch heroic operas and wager on fighting crickets. As they have since the beginning of time, they cheat, hustle, lie, and sometimes kill. As McAuley succinctly puts it, “No dictator, no matter how universal or benign, could stop people from being people. But the lies were only little lies, personal lies.” Lee is a hero because he has stopped the big public lies from being...

(The entire section is 427 words.)