The Quiet War by Paul McAuley (Book 1 of 2) a Review

Quiet as in space no one can hear you scream quiet and also as in you can’t detect it until its too late. It starts with the Callisto Biome Peace Project and a murder. Crafty young soil-engineer Macy Minnot is reluctantly drawn into the struggle for war or peace among the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. The title gives the result away…


From the teeming cities of earth to the scrupulously realized landscapes of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, The Quiet War, an exotic, fast-paced space opera, turns on a single question: who decides what it means to be human?

Twenty-third century Earth, ravaged by climate change, looks backwards to the holy ideal of a pre-industrial Eden. Political power has been grabbed by a few powerful families and their green saints. Millions of people are imprisoned in teeming cities; millions more labour on Pharaonic projects to rebuild ruined ecosystems. On the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, the Outers, descendants of refugees from Earth’s repressive regimes, have constructed a wild variety of self-sufficient cities and settlements: scientific utopias crammed with exuberant creations of the genetic arts; the last outposts of every kind of democratic tradition.

The fragile detente between the Outer cities and the dynasties of Earth is threatened by the ambitions of the rising generation of Outers, who want to break free of their cosy, inward-looking pocket paradises, colonise the rest of the Solar System, and drive human evolution in a hundred new directions. On Earth, many demand pre-emptive action against the Outers before it’s too late; others want to exploit the talents of their scientists and gene wizards. Amid campaigns for peace and reconciliation, political machinations, crude displays of military might, and espionage by cunningly wrought agents, the two branches of humanity edge towards war…


My book was printed by Pyr and have a cover made by Sparth (left above)
There is also a print by Gollanz (to the right)


The book starts with us getting to know the characters and background, the setting is quite complex and there is  multiple points of views but I would say that our main protagonist is Macy a young soil-engineer from Greater Brazil sent to Callisto to participate in the work of her life, the Biome Project. It was supposed to be a peace gesture but things start to go awry when the project leader dies in what at first seems like an accident. Suspicion and mistrust is strong among both sides and different fractions takes advantage of the situation for their own good and they don’t hesitate to blackmail Macy into helping them to her own ultimate disadvantage.

One of the villians of the book is Loc Ifrahim a minor diplomat on Callisto and a small petty man that we get to follow in his ups and downs.

There is some good action in this part but I did have difficulties and getting into this book at first, I am not used to putting down a book and letting it simmer for a day or two.

There is many fractions involved in this. The earth governments want stability and stasis and they are especially afraid of genetic manipulation and expansion considering what happened on earth. But those that want war are gaining ground at an alarming speed.

The holy grail of the Outers that both sides wants is Avernus, the genetic genius that created the vacuum flora that allowed the Outers to survive after being cut off from earth. The Earthers wants her for her knowledge and the Outers wants to protect her. She is a somewhat mysterious entity almost alien in the book. Her motivations and the secrets she is protecting are never explained in this book to the frustration of the reader, I hope the next book will provide more of an answer to that. She is for peace with earth.

Long term preparations for war is revealed, Greater Brazil has created and trained a group of super soldiers to be used against the Outers. They where cut by Sri Hong-Owen, an acclaimed gene wizard, she gives us a point of view of the cutthroat life working for the Piexoto family, one of the great families that run Greater Brazil. Sri is very much a force in herself by ruthless determination, fortitude and sher brilliance. She is also obsessed with Avernus.

One of the cloned soldiers is different Dave #8, he starts to ask questions, only to himself of course he is not dumb.

They have also developed sleek and fast single fighters that require cybernetic and genetically enhanced human pilots. We gets to follow one of the pilots Cash Baker.

There are outers that wants to show the Earthers that this is Outers space and prepare for war. The Mayor of Paris, Marisa Bassi is one of them.

There is also a generation difference among the Outers, the young generation wants to expand, move on, reach for the stars but the old generation wants more paced innovation and expansion.

The Ghosts are an extreme group of transhumans (according to themselves) that believe that their leader is talking to himself from the future. They are very confrontational towards earth.

Paul also sends a message about social media, on earth there is no social media, on the Outers worlds there is but that can also go too far, becoming too invasive as Ghosts follow Macy around broadcasting everything she does.

They all move towards a war without much meaning.

World building

The world building is excellent and you can feel Paul’s background in biology in the biological marvels in the dept of Jupiter or the scenery of Sri’s fortress of solitude in Antarctica. You understand that he is on familiar grounds when he writes about the moons of Jupiter and Saturn and the Outers cities, homes and lifestyle comes to life in vivid detail.

Sometimes the information dumps are borderline, I think that’s the reason I put down the book so many times in the beginning.


It took me a long time to warm to any of the characters in the novel partly because they all lacked control of their lives and much of their motivation seemed to lack positive sides. But that proved to be part of the greatness of this novel as I finally warmed to them. In the beginning of the story the character are not in control of their lives but they grow as the story grows. Their motivation also becomes more detailed.

The weakest part of this novel is the characterization, not because it is bad but because you have to go the distance to reap the rewards.

My View

The Quiet War is propably the most realistic book of interplanetary war I have seen. It’s told from the cogs of the war machine, those never told the whole background. I would recommend this book to informed readers of science fiction.


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