Danger Gal Friday: Maj. Catherine Li

This week’s Danger Gal Friday profile is of Major Catherine Li, from Chris Moriarty’s Science Fiction novel SPIN STATE, a Philip K Dick Award and Prometheus Award nominee.

Spin State by Chris MoriartySince I’ve recently started reading the sequel, SPIN CONTROL, I realized that I never have profiled Catherine Li. Mostly this is due to the fact that this book is so dense — it’s detective noir hard science fiction with a gender and sexuality subtext — that no review or profile I write could successfully cover the scope of it. But I’ll do my best.

First off, I wasn’t kidding about this being hard science fiction. The core technology in the story centers on quantum entanglement, and Moriarty did her homework with seven pages of end notes citing scientific papers on the topic. I read this book way back in 2005, and compared it as many have to Richard Morgan’s ALTERED CARBON:

Morgan’s and Moriarty’s debut books are often compared to one another, which is why I read one after the other. UN Peacekeeper Catherine Li is a clone, and she’s covered that fact well, but maybe not well enough when she’s sent back home to solve the murder of physicist Hannah Sharifi—from the same clone bank as Li. There are definite similarities between SPIN STATE and ALTERED CARBON, but they’re vastly different books. I especially liked Moriarty’s concept of “streamspace,” effectively a virt environment like the Matrix, but one enabled by quantum entanglement. And yes, I had to read this book with a dictionary in hand, but that’s what I liked about it.

Catherine Li fits the Danger Gal profile in several different ways. First off, she breaks with many hard science fiction and detective noir stories by just being a female protagonist. She’s actually in charge of getting to the bottom of the mystery, rather than being the girl sidekick with a gun.

I don’t have the book in front of me as I write this, but I also seem to remember Li being vaguely Asian, as is Hannah Sharifi since the two of them are clones from the same source. Li’s appearance doesn’t fall in line with the typical stereotype of what’s deemed as feminine attractiveness, either, namely that she’s shaved her head. This plays well against the gender and sexuality issues in this novel encapsulated by Li’s affair with Bella, a beautiful pawn of the Syndicates and the UN, and Li’s on-going relationship with Cohen, an artificial intelligence who “shunts” into humans of both male and female genders.

So, in Li we have a protagonist who challenges gender, ethnicity, appearance, and sexuality expectations. That’s a superfecta of story elements I haven’t seen very often. (See if that word show up on Free Rice. . .)

This was a challenging read that I enjoyed. This book takes on the big Science Fiction “What if?” question on both scientific and social issues. So far I’m about a quarter into its sequel, SPIN CONTROL, and enjoying it just as much. Li and Cohen evidently show up at some point in the sequel and I’m looking forward to that. I’ve included links to two more reviews of this book, for those who want to know more.

Off the Shelf Review by Paul Witcover
Eagle Review by Russ Allbery