The most important thing about this novel, though, and one that indicates Ian Watson's professionalism, is how he uses an attitude to the book. Miracle Visitors is only partly a space/first contact novel. What it is really about is paranoia, and that keeps the reader hanging on, as everything seems to be due to some secret, malignant, conspiring force. The second half of the book is weaker than the first because it has to start to wrap up the questions and start to provide answers, and the solution is never really satisfactory, but for a long time, Miracle Visitors is a book that can only be put down to check that no one has entered the room without opening the door.
This is Ian Watson's third novel for Games Workshop's "Warhammer 40,000" series, and is a sequel to Inquisitor, inheriting the same protagonist, Jaq Draco.
The publisher's flyer quotes the description from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, which says Watson is "The most impressive synthesizer of modern SF", but I think they don't realise how cleverly he does it. This book reads like nothing else of Watson's that I've read, but reads fast - he has succeeded in moving into the domain of gratuitous violence and amorality that is the world of all these parallel texts to RPGing.
So, Ian Watson is an ideas man - just think of one his early books like Deathhunter, which is actually a conceit, (an elaborate literary game), based on the refusal to distinguish between death and dying, like a poem by John Donne written on a vaster scale. Yet even that at the time was criticized as a thriller, but now Harlequin contains lines like "Nothing could extinguish the fire which ate into his flesh and his nerves - consuming ever so slowly, like lingering sticky acid" and "'Sergeant,' ordered Lex, "use your las-scalpel above the elbow. Slice through the humerus.'" and the heroine Meh'lindi gets a complete operation without anaesthetics.
In a world of ritual barbarism what could offer some hope of something else? Firstly, some sense of religion, so an objection can be met "'I grieve for the loss of Goethe's progenoids, sir.' 'Use your scalpel for this lesser purpose'". Far away the emporor is suffering even more, however, there is doubt about the nature of that pain. In fact the whole book is riddled with doubt and on some pages several paragraphs in a row consist of nothing but questions, mostly never to be answered. This is not just Descarte's world, he would be proud of this universe. And lastly, with a character called Zephro Carnelian, this is a universe in which other author's worlds are colliding - Moorcock, Wolfe, probably more.
I wonder how many wargamers will see all that in these pages of interstellar conflict.
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