A while back, I had the privilege of reading an advanced uncorrected proof of Michael Swanwick’s new novel, Dancing With Bears. (Trade hardcover from Night Shade Books, May, 2011). Man, this novel is a total blast.
The book documents the further adventures of Darger and Surplus, Swanwick’s post-apocalyptic con men seen elsewhere, including several stories in his collection The Dog Said Bow-Wow. It’s a caper story set in a fairly distant future after an inversion of the Singularity. The rise of the machines failed. Their ancient intelligences brood wrathfully in buried bunkers and along secret networks, while the world above muddles through with a decidedly orthogonal technology drawn in equal measures from the eccentric biotech of John C. McLoughlin’s The Helix and the Sword and the more arch threads of the steampunk movement.
Dancing With Bears is not New Weird, nor steampunk. It is post-apocalyptic fiction in the tradition of Alas, Babylon, Canticle for Leibowitz and Riddley Walker, except set in a future which is a hell of a lot more fun and less grim for both the reader as well as for at least some of the inhabitants. Especially Darger and Surplus.
The sheer improbability of Swanwick’s Muscovy anchors the tale. Bizarre socialites, genetically engineered courtesans, ancient treasures and common venality interweave in a delightful dance. Dancing With Bears is an amazing, entertaining dip into a distinctively imagined future.