by Kathleen Ann Goonan



430pp/$24.00/February 2000

Crescent City Rhapsody
Cover by Gregory Bridges

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Kathleen Ann Goonan has decided to backtrack in her series begun in Queen City Jazz to look at how that world formed from our own in Crecent City Rhapsody.  The novel opens with a strange, possibly astronomical, event which has the same effect as an Electromagnetic Pulse, knocking out most modern forms of communications, at least temporarily.  When the event repeats as various unpredictable intervals, the early twenty-first century infrastructure falls into ruins and the world tries to make due with earlier, slower, but more reliable communications.

Goonan’s two primary characters are Zeb, a radio astronomer with possible knowledge of the events which caused the Silence, and Marie, the head of a New Orleans crime syndicate who begins the novel by being assassinated.  Goonan relates their disparate stories set against a world in which neither belong anymore.  In addition to these characters, Goonan focuses on several others, including Jason and Illian, both of whom suffer from a strange disease which may be linked to the Silence which opens the novel. 

Titularly and thematically, Goonan ties her story into music although the primary event of her world is the Silence, a series of unexplained events which cause outages of various communication devices, leaving the world in a strange quasi-pre-communications era period.  While Goonan examines the way the lack of reliable communications would effect the world, her depiction is limited due to the need to maintain certain levels of civilization and combined knowledge in order for her plot to work.

Almost all of Goonan's characters are memorable and well-depicted.  These characters appear in a wide range of story-lines and locations, ranging from the United States to Japan, Germany and Nepal.  These plots eventually manage to come together, but in the process, the characterizations feel a little lost as Goonan jumps between them without giving enough time to any individual.

The world of Crescent City Rhapsody is a world in transition.  Not only are the governments and individuals learning how to cope with the disappearance and unreliability of communications, they are also learning to deal with the growth of nanotechnology.  Goonan sees this as a means of replacing fragile electronic technology with more reliable technology based on nanotechnology.  Her cities of the future are practically living entities which can alter their appearances as necessitated by the citizens.

Crescent City Rhapsody is an ambitious novel which mostly lives up to the goals which Goonan appears to have set.  Given the backstory information from her novels Queen City Jazz and Mississippi Blues, Goonan has managed to provide an interesting plot with sympathetic characters rather than a novel which simply reads like a fleshing out of the notes she has created.

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