From the nepotistic roots of Swan’s position to the manner in which Africa in particular is singled out as “irrefragable,” Robinson’s book reads like a parody of the manner in which benevolent but ignorant First Worlders combine the desire to intervene with contempt for the peoples whose lives they wish to manipulate. Robinson’s attempt to incorporate a structure akin to Dos Passos’ USA trilogy is ambitious but doomed.

In a solar system divided between developed Mars, over- heated Earth and vaguely anarchistic Mondragon Accord, the death of the Lion of Mercury catapults the Lion’s grandchild Swan Er Hong into interplanetary affairs. Artist Swan soon discovers that there is much to keep her busy; not only is a divided Earth an easy target for unrequested intervention by well-intentioned amateurs, some unknown faction has begun a covert but potentially lethal game of interplanetary war. (ORBIT, May, 576 pp., $25.99)
Reviewed by: 
James Davis Nicoll