Never judge a book by its cover, so the mantra goes. In the case of Simon Morden’s Samuil Petrovitch Trilogy I threw that right out the window. There I was perusing the shelves of the local Barnes & Noble (yes, looking are real books, with words printed on real paper) when my eyes fell on the spines of a colorful set of books. I looked at the covers, absorbed their titles, read the backs…interesting. For people who still buy real books shelf appeal sometimes catches our eye. It certainly did in this case.
But, do the books live up to their cutting edge exterior? Yes and no.
The trilogy won the 2011 Philip K. Dick Memorial Award for best novel. From my experience this in and of itself never guarantees the quality of a book.
The trilogy is comprised of three novels:
Equations of Life
Theories of Flight
Degrees of Freedom
Each novel takes place in the London Metrozone, a crowded post nuclear war megalopolis, and stars the foul mouthed and contentious Russian Samuil Petrovitch. Political and criminal intrigue seem to follow Petrovitch everywhere, even when he flees the ruins of St. Petersburg and moves to the Metrozone to try and make a fresh start as a physicist. Because who doesn’t like a former street thug who can also nightlight as a brilliant scientist? But, he’s making an effort until he plays good citizen and rescues a woman from a kidnapping. From there it’s all downhill.
But Petrovitch has a plan – he always has a plan – he’s just not sure it’s a good one.
Samuil relies on his former street smarts and penchant for ultra-violence to fight off displaced Japanese yakuza (Japan no longer exists), the Russian mob, the CIA, and and artificial intelligence called the New Machine Jihad.
Petrovitch really is one of the most unique characters I’ve read in awhile. He follows his own, albeit twisted, moral compass. He cares and protects the good people around him, but doesn’t bat an eye if the need should arise to slaughter a few thousand dirtbags. During the course of all three novels Petrovitch begins to transform from human to part cyborg with private access to a hyper-intelligent AI that exists in the local Metrozone cloud. The action is fast, as is the overall pace. Violence is rife throughout the books, with portions of the story seeing the main characters wading through areas flooded by bloated bodies or driving through streets littered with corpses so think they they have to drive over them. Through it all Petrovitch comes through . . . very scarred.
There really are no themes or parables that are trying to be conveyed in these books, this is straight up gun play, explosions, backstabbing, satellite scanning, virtual reality laden action.
The main problem with the trilogy is that it’s not really a trilogy. There’s really no succinct ending with each book, nor is there a clear ending after the third book. The overall story just continues on. Now that I’ve read the books it’s clear to me that Morden intends this to be an ongoing series about the adventures of Petrovitch et al. That’s find, but Morden has already imposed a dependence that you read all the books from the beginning to follow what’s going on.
Another problem with the books is the story never leaves the same setting. All three are set basically in two settings: the ruined streets of the Metrozone, and various rooms in buildings throughout the Metrozone. For those keeping count that’s about 1000 pages walking around the rubble strewn streets of London.
The fourth book is coming out next month (March 2013) and is titled The Curve of the Earth.
Do I recommend The Samuil Petrovitch Trilogy? Yes. It’s a fun, quick, action packed romp through the ruined streets of the London Metrozone. Should you continue with the long series that is sure to continue for years to come? That’s your call. I probably won’t continue with any follow on books unless Morden sees fit to actually draw it to a conclusion in a reasonable amount of books. There are just far too many good books to read for me to commit myself to unending series.