I’ve not read Ms. Bear’s first three novels, the Jenny Casey series, but I know that in that world, Earth is going to hell in a hand basket. Carnival is set much later in time, and Earth has arrived at Hell, so to speak. Earth is ruled by the Governors, artificial intelligences that control nanotechnology (including people’s wardrobes) and which will “cull” folks without blinking a digital eye. The Governors, created by eco-terrorists gone wild, is artificially maintaining Earth’s population at 500 million. They got it there by killing 9.5 billion.
The Old Earth Colonial Coalition, who rule under the Governors, have sent two gay male diplomats to New Amazonia, which (surprise) is ruled by women. Women that enslave all men, and really only allow “gentle” (“gay”) men out of the house. Our heroes’ task is to get New Amazonia, and more particularly their alien technology, into the OECC fold as fast as possible. As it happens, nobody in this book does what they are supposed to do or has a straightforward agenda.
This leads to an interesting book, full of doublecrosses, deceptions and general excitement. It also makes it hard to keep track of who’s who in the zoo. The improbable names of our Earth diplomats (Michelangelo Kusanagi-Jones and Vincent Katherinessen respectively) doesn’t help, nor does the fact that Ms. Bear changes point-of-view as often as most folks change their underwear.
But the book really is worth it. Bear’s aliens are both believable and NOT humans in rubber suits, and her characters are the odd but refreshing mix of competent but fallible. Ms. Bear has a real eye for cultures, and her mix of cultures is believable and interesting. In short, Carnival, isn’t a quick read, but it’s worth it.