Speculative Fiction Reviews
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The Tang Dynasty Underwater Pyramid, by Walter Jon Williams - Sci-Fiction, 4 August 2004

The Tang Dynasty Underwater Pyramid, by Walter Jon Williams

This week's offering at Sci-Fiction comes from Walter Jon Williams. Ernesto is a member of a family of Aymara street musicians who also form a private intelligence-gathering agency, in the mode of James Bond, but with more music. Approached to retrieve a container from a sunken freighter off Hong Kong, Ernesto's band join up with a vain water ballet company and head for the wreck, on board a cruise liner disguised as a Tang Dynasty palace. But also heading for the wreck are Fidel Perugachi and his rival band of street musicians/private intelligence service.

It's immediately obvious that The Tang Dynasty Underwater Pyramid is going to be far lighter than the last few Sci-Fiction stories. Williams produces a rapid, imaginative and at times hilarious story, packed with action and great characters. Nominally, this is science fiction. It is obviously set in the near future and the cargo being recovered is science-fictional. The cruise ship that much of the story is set on is a satirically magnified nightmare version of a cruise ship. However, the focus on the story is firmly on the humour and the adventure.

In tone, this is perhaps closest to Harry Harrison's early Stainless Steel Rat stories, although the humour is more pronounced here. Many people try to write humour in SF and most fail. More often than not, this is because they appear to think that if they stuff in enough jokes, everything else--the plot, the characters, the consistency, the research--doesn't matter. Williams does not make this mistake even for a second. As a result, his story is complete, rounded, and a great read. I recommend it.

- Patrick Samphire, 5 August 2004

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