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Cowboy Angels review

Unoriginal but absorbing tale of world-hopping CIA agents

Author: Paul McAuley

Publisher: Gollancz

320 pages • £18.99

ISBN: 978-0-575-07934-2

Rating:

There are insightful pieces of SF, artistic works which leave you moved. Then there are stories about men running around with guns. Reviewing books would be a wearying task if earnest literature was the norm, which is why there’s joy to be had in a spy-fi yarn that feels like Ian Fleming writing a Sliders episode.

Parallel Earths are connected by quantum gates through which the US sends squads. Their aim is to locate other versions of America and join them in a pan-dimensional military alliance. The Cowboy Angels are secret agents carrying out the dubious political agendas of the Real homeworld, and our hero Adam Stone is pulled out of retirement for one last mission (of course): to hunt a comrade who’s gone rogue. We’re reminded of everything from H Beam Piper and his Paratime Police to Jet Li’s movie The One. It’s not the freshest of high concepts, but it is capably depicted.

We get the sense of a richer world, and although the book has the feel of a standard chase thriller, the characters do gain depth and sympathy. Matter-of-fact fight scenes start and end abruptly, and the prologue introduces people and ideas with an all-action momentum that then, fatiguingly, continues throughout. Exuberantly enjoying the energy of his inventions, MacAuley suddenly snaps in things that throw you off-guard (apemen with guns?!) but because he’s an excellent wordsmith he gets away with it. Cowboy Angels is a book destined to win few awards for originality, but will give readers a visceral Boys’ Own kick.

David Bradley

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