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7th Sigma    by Steven Gould order for
7th Sigma
by Steven Gould
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

A new book by Steven Gould is a rare treat that demands my instant attention, and 7th Sigma - a coming of age in a uniquely post-apocalyptic region - looks like the beginning of a fascinating new series. Just as in my favorite of Gould's books, his breakout novel Helm, he combines action and intrigue with martial arts in an unusual setting in 7th Sigma.

The story also has distinct similarities to another of my long-time favorite reads, Rudyard Kipling's Kim, whose young hero lived a life from the Arabian Nights in Lahore, Pakistan before befriending a Tibetan lama and working as a British spy. Gould quotes both Kipling's Kim and The Jungle Book at the beginning of 7th Sigma.

The story is set in a future Earth in which the American desert Southwest has been infested with bugs ('tiny, self-replicating, solar-powered, metal-eating machines.') No-one knows where they came from or why they stopped spreading further when they did. Humans who remain in this wild Territory (policed by Rangers) are forced to manage without metal of any kind, and to avoid the bugs - stepping on one will arouse a swarm of others zooming in to feed on its metal.

We first meet the series star in Nuevo Santa Fe where he has lived on the streets since his abusive father was airlifted out of the area, needing a pacemaker - Kimble would be taken too if the authorities could find him. He encounters Sensei Ruth Monroe and helps her with his local knowledge. He ends up accompanying her to Rio Puerco, where she intends to build a martial arts dojo. Kimble becomes her student and takes her last name. He also learns meditation from Zen Bhuddist Thay Hahn and gets on well with the priest's young daughter Thayet.

Kimble has various thrilling adventures as he grows into his skills and learns to balance his natural courage with wisdom and (some) caution. After he meets Ranger Captain Bentham (who is aware of his identity but keeps his secret), Kimble (just like his namesake, Kipling's Kim) starts working for the Ranger as a very successful spy. He gains a helper in an intelligent mule named Mrs. Perdicaris. And in his last venture in this book, which turns perilous, he's aided by a not-man, formed out of bugs.

I enjoyed 7th Sigma very much, and am most anxious to see where Steven Gould takes Kimble next, and to learn more of the bugs' intentions. Don't miss this one!

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