Mariposa is set in a USA not too distant from our own. The economy is a shambles, with the US on the brink of bankruptcy. The government is a hopeless, bickering mess. The president is recovering from an assassination attempt. The vice president has just murdered his wife. Several states are taking the first steps toward secession. And in a few weeks, the international community the US owes trillions of dollars to will enact an electronic financial watchdog that can put America in the hands of its debtors the instant the economy looks like its going to fail.
So, much worse than our current situation, but no rocket ships or jet packs.
Still, there is a lot of advanced technology in the book, and Bear does a great job of blending it in seamlessly. Government agents wear “spex” that sound like an integrated, personal heads-up display. Attendees at a convention have temporary data-embedded tattoos, or dattoos, that they use to trade information — phone numbers, email addresses, a vice presidential murder confession… Employees at a high tech company have chips implanted that grant them access to specific areas of the campus, and the ground has been seeded with other chips that are used to track anyone in the area.
But Bear doesn’t spend a lot of time on the technical details about how these things work, what they do, or how they were invented. They’re presented as simply and matter-of-factly as cars or telephones. I think that’s one of the reasons I liked the book despite not being much into hard sci-fi or techno-thrillers; Bear focuses on the people and events of the story, not the gadgetry. I got caught up in wanting to know if Fouad would make it out alive, if Rebecca would be able to get to the bottom of things in time, how far off the deep end Trace would go, if William and his team would be able to get Little Jamey across the border to New Mexico, and how all of these things fit together — and what they had to do with the MSARC watchdog computer. If Bear had spent pages, or even paragraphs, detailing the minutae of the gadgetry in Mariposa, he would have lost me. But he kept the focus on the characters and their stories, and that kept me turning pages to the end.
I’m still not sure how everything fit together — some things, like Little Jamey’s rescue, seemed more like concurrent events that happened to coincide with the major events of the story, and probably could have been cut without losing anything — but Bear has a polished writing style and intriguing story that make Mariposa an enjoyable read, even if techno-thrillers/sci-fi aren’t your normal fare.