Dancing With Bears follows the adventures of notorious con-men Darger and Surplus: They''ve lied and cheated their way onto the caravan that is delivering a priceless gift from the Caliph of Baghdad to the Duke of Muscovy. The only thing harder than the journey to Muscovy is their arrival in Muscovy. An audience with the Duke seems impossible to obtain, and Darger and Surplus quickly become entangled in a morass of deceit and revolution. The only thing more dangerous than the convoluted political web surrounding Darger and Surplus is the gift itself, the Pearls of Byzantium, and Zoesophia, the governess sworn to protect their virtue.
©2011 Michael Swanwick (P)2012 Audible, Inc.
I'm a voracious audiobibliophile, mainly interested in speculative fiction, with the occasional mimetic fiction or non-fiction title sneaking in.
It's a shame there are so few reviews of this audiobook, as this really was pretty fantastic. It's like: Scott Lynch's Locke Lamora meets Dostoevsky in the post-apocalypse. And as always Rudnicki is great, this one he gets to show off a range of Russian accents, cyber wolves, giants, genetically engineered bear-men and Neanderthals, and a fascinating, hilarious pair of con artists in Darger (British, what ho) and Surplus (a genetically uplifted dog, from Vermont, yeah I said it, Vermont). Really, really enjoyed it.
So, the events. Something like this, prior to the book: In the future, we create AI, and have a utopia for a time (some dispute whether this utopia reached, say, Russia or not, and for how long); the AI... yeah it grew to hate humanity. Hate hate hate. War. Destruction. Some AI is eventually exiled to the Internet/virtual world, others are physically cut off. (For example, chiefly in this story, the Russian spaceport of Baikonur. Which hates you, people. HATES you. Biding its time. Hating you.)
And then, unto this comes Darger and Surplus, somehow before the story starts having gotten themselves into the caravan of the ambassador of Byzantium heading to the Duke of Moscovy with a priceless gift. Crossing into Russia. Where Baikonur's cyberwolves have just started their own journey.
So many cons. Great world-building in Moscow, which has its own spiraling, interconnected, double-triple-quadruple-crossing schemes. In this "post-utopian" time we have some gene-splicing, and automatic weapons, and really, really, really, REALLY crazy new drugs, but horse and carriage transport.
"In Russia, there are no facts. Only competing conspiracy theories." (Paraphrase from memory one of MANY great one-liners liberally sprinkled in here on everything from politics to religion.) Just... highly recommended. Fun, smart, colorful, engaging. I really hope the forthcoming sequel (Chasing the Phoenix) comes to audio as well.
Darger and Sir Plus (previously seen in the short stories The Dog Said Bow-Wow, The Cat Laughed to See Such Sport and Boys and Girls, Come Out to Play) are back from their previous adventures and as erudite and scheming as ever, with perfect dialogue and actions that befit a pair of confidence tricksters in a strange, dystopian Russia. The adjoining cast of characters, though numerous, manage to hold onto their own personalities and quirks and stretch the scope of the story to to barest limit of patience. Rudnicki's performance ensures that each character has their own verbal tics and quirks, so that you immediately understand who's speaking and with what emotions. That said, the multiple plots running in concert barely manage to meet each other at the end of the story with satisfying conclusions. A lot of neat ideas, some very arresting scenes, but all with a - frankly - sputtering payoff that serves little more than to tie things off for the sake of doing so. Rushed, perhaps, is the best way to describe the ending.
Swanwick's brand of sci-fi/fantasy has long been my favorite and I will always be ready to consume his next work. When I read The Iron Dragon's Daughter many years ago, I found it the antidote to the sci-fi/fantasy market saturated with the likes of Lord of the Rings knockoffs and penny-by-the-pound Dragonlance novels, and I've been hooked on him since. Nobody does it like Swanwick.
Mr. Rudnicki is a god made flesh with a voice of rich tobacco, warm gold, and fatherly love. Has he tried singing yet?
I'll always be ready for yet another Darger and Sir Plus adventure - especially considering the target country of their next plot mentioned at the very end of the story. Hopefully, if that story is written, it will be much more focused and tight.
This is NOT the best book to get started on reading/listening to Swanwick. If you can, I recommend reading/listening to his earlier works: The Iron Dragon's Daughter, Bones of the Earth, and Jack Faust. His anthologies The Dog Said Bow-Wow and Tales of Old Earth are spectacular and great for lunch hour reading, and you'll even get in some of his Hugo winners.
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