Review of COWBOY ANGELS by Paul McAuley
Pyr, January 2011
Adam Stone was one of the CIA agents, "cowboy angels" who infiltrated new sheafs, discovered what made their economies and political systems click, and helped bring an American-style government and economy into worlds where America had taken fascist or communist paths, or where they were threatened by European powers. Now, though, he wants his retirement on a sheaf where humanity didn't develop, where he can lead hunting parties to catch saber-tooth cats, and where he can develop his growing affection toward the pretty widow who is his business partner. When the Company wants to reactivate him, he isn't interested, until he learns that they want him to help look for an old Company buddy, Tom Waverly. According to the Company, Waverly has gone on a murder streak, killing the same woman across multiple sheafs, and Tom is asking for Stone.
As Adam follows leads, trying to prevent his one-time friend from killing again, he learns of a plot by disaffected Company agents. Rather than accept their new role, they're trying to change the world of the Real, allowing them to re-launch their crusade to save every America.
Author Paul McAuley (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of SF by McAuley) creates an intriguing multiverse. In McAuley's story, every decision possible is taken. America sided with Germany during World War II, World War II was avoided but Europe went to war with Communist Russia. The Turing gate allows travel between these sheafs, but time is constant--unless the mysterious object Tom stole really does allow time travel. It's a complicated place, and it's not always clear who's in the right and who's in the wrong. Should the America of the "real" be doing more to help those who are less fortunate?
There's a lot to like about COWBOY ANGELS. It's an interesting take on alternate history, with modern quantum physics at its root. Stone, the disaffected former 'angel' is an interesting and driven protagonist. I would have liked to see more of the different worlds and McAuley's vision of how they diverged and what this meant. There is a lot of action and running around, but it's not always clear to me what the characters are trying to accomplish and it's a stretch to imagine the Company letting Stone participate in the projects given his opposition to their activities. Overall, COWBOY ANGELS is a well-written and interesting take on alternate history.
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