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Jon Courtenay-Grimwood – Stamping ButterfliesJon Courtenay-Grimwood is a British SF author, former journalist, and winner (repeatedly) of the BSFA award. Stamping Butterflies was his 8th book, published directly after the magnificent Arabesk trilogy, and at least one strand shows a topical relationship to the setting of those books (no story or universe interrelations, though).

The book tells two main stories – firstly we get, as indicated, a North-African setting, which kicks off with a botched assassination attempt on the US President when he visits Marrakesh. That this is attempted with a 50 year old bullet in a 100 year old rifle from ways too far away, by a man with no name, no nationality, and no political persuation or affiliation (never mind membership of a conspiracy), claiming that 'the darkness' demanded that he do it, which leaves some room to fill with (politically loaded) explanations and investigations.

The other main story follows the 53rd Chuang Tzu, raised to the Dragon Throne, living a live of luxury and extravagance so his Billions of subjects don't have to (he's living in some kind of real-time 'Big Brother' show, including empathy ratings), and carrying the memories of his 52 predecessors on memory diamonds, made from said predecessors. He is waiting for an assassin who will end his unappy reign over the 2023 worlds, which form a kind of shattered Dyson sphere around a sun. Yes, it's China in space, in the far future. But he is being talked to by what he calls 'the library', and what the first Chuang Tzu termed 'the darkness'.

 

There are many many other sub-threads, flashbacks, and historical settings; we see how Moz & Malika (both mixed-race children) grow up in Marrakesh, we see the history of the spaceshp 'SZ Loyal Prince', discovering the 2023 world arrangements with most of its crew dead and the rest dying, we see scenes with Prisoner Zero (as the press call him) in Paris... some are fairly easy to to see how they fit into the picture, other seem to have, as usual with Jon Courtenay-Grimwood, nothing to do with either main thread; and their significance only becomes clear when their effects are felt in the story.
At the beginning of the book I found the North African thread to be much more enjoyable, much more alive; the Chinese thread felt contrieved, bloodless, full of description of the setting and not enough people. Or story, for that matter. The emperor feels more like an abstraction than like an actor (which, of course, might have been on purpose), but other parts of that setting started to come alive after a while.

The way the story jumps from one topic to another, moving forwards as well as looping back in time has a tendency to frequently disrupt a story thread just as it gets rolling, and I would have wanted it to continue, to know more of what was happening; this I found mildly irritating.
Piecing the different puzzle pieces and time lines together was, as always with Jon's books, a pleasure though; and overall I can say that I greatly enjoyed the book. Even if, after re-reading it twice, I still am not sure if the main threads and time lines really add up, or if he pulled a quick one (using a 'magic' plot device) to work around any potential inconsistencies. Either way, magnificently done.


More Jon Courtenay-Grimwood

Title: Stamping Butterflies
Author: Jon Courtenay-Grimwood
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher:  Orion
Publisher URL: http://www.orionbooks.co.uk
Publication Date: 2005
Review Date: 121222
ISBN: 057507650X
Price: UKP 6.99
Pages: 424
Format: Trade Paperback
Topic: SF
Topic: Politics

 

 

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