"Eclipse Penumbra" is paced like a World War II epic movie and ideological melodrama transmuted to the year 2021. All fast, simple and conventional on the surface as it is, Eclipse is to standard adventure/sci-fi narrative as Sid Vicious' "My Way" is to a Vegas pop tune. That is to say sincere in its cutting tonal distortions and playful in its overwritings.
Of special interest is Shirley's characterization of the "National Resistance", an updated version of the French Resistance, "Du Temps Moderne" romantic 1944 vintage. Those liberatory politics are re-programmed to include space colonies, post-psychedelic drugs (whose effects are described in alternately delicious and horrifying detail) and future techniques of behavior control just now entering the wholesomely paranoid consciousness. Unfortunately, as this volume ends the good guys are losing to neo-nazis (the Second Alliance), whom Shirley also examines in pretty good detail.
While the political melodrama is set up in good-bad, us-them categories, a number of Shirley's high tech fascist functionaries are potential mutants. Shirley's good at probing these character's ambivalences. His profiles of the resistance rebels are sure sharp too. Machiavellian interplanetary poly-scientists of the future will no doubt read their mon Shirley closely to hone their sensitive registering of future psychologies, pathologies etc.
Graphic: photo of John Shirley by Zena Kruzick from "SF Eye"
Here is the TEXT POPUP for Eclipse Penumbra:
The Second Alliance International Security Corporation. We just call them the SA. NATO hired them to police Europe, to keep order behind the lines. They were a big army all by themselves. Bigger than anybody thought. And nobody knew that they were waiting for a chance like this. There was a conspiracy...Well, anyway, they occupied lots of Europe behind the lines of fighting. They took control of it. And it turned out that the people who ran the SA were fascists.
After a moment he realized he was lying facedown across her, his body making an X with hers. And he was holding his breath. He let it out, becoming aware of a whirlwind of noise and motion, of people running nearby, fire chattering in their hands. It seemed to him that it was all mixed up now; it wasn't the enemy over there, NR here - the enemy had overrun them, were all around; the NR was there, too, emerging and sinking in smoke. Hard Eyes saw two SA regulars running toward him. He found his rifle, fired from a belly-down sniper's position, gun propped in the hollow of his shoulder and in his hands, its butt kicking at him as one of the SA fell. The other one was still coming, pointing a submachine gun. Any second he'd feel the slugs. But that one fell, too, seeming to explode into flame as he fell, dropping his gun, clawing, making a swimming motion on the ground... somebody'd hit the guy with an incendiary grenade...after a moment the soldier lay still, facedown, quietly burning.
Steinfeld had made the New Resistance a resource available to communists, capitalists, anarchists, republicist conservatives, liberals; all flavors of those persuasions, as long as they were opposed to the Second Alliance.
"No," Cooper was saying, "I'm not a sociobiologist. We left that behind years ago. I'm a social geneticist."
The SA's New Life Lab was known to be involved in the genetic engineering of microorganisms. During the Middle Ages a single strain of microorganism, the bubonic plague, wiped out something from one-third to one half of the population of the world. Indiscriminately, of course. But suppose someone engineered a discriminatory virus or bacterium.