Degrees of Freedom by Simon Morden

Degrees of Freedom

A review by Nalini Haynes

Degrees of Freedom is the third in the Metrozone trilogy by Simon Morden, a series written by an actual rocket scientist/fanboy about Samueil Petrovich, a Russian nerd who worked for a ganster before running away to London to get a PhD, invent amazing technology and rescue a Japanese heiress. Two books later, Petrovich is married to Maddie, a former Sister of the order of Joan, a sect who wear body armour, carry serious guns and act as bodyguards for the Roman Catholic church. Petrovich is separated from Maddie, a rift in their relationship caused by him keeping secrets and having too many admirers. Even so, he keeps up his scheming ways, believing the ends justifies the means.

In the first book Petrovich was quite young, about 22 I think. Now he should only be 23 but he comes across as in his thirties, much more world-weary and worn down than any 23 year-old has a right to be. He’s even adopted a 15 year-old, Lucy, whose parents were lost earlier in the trilogy. Petrovich and Lucy live with two other women, Tabletop and Valentina, who act as flunkies, bodyguards and brains working for Petrovich.

Equations of Life, the first book in this series, was by far the funniest with the most SF references I’ve ever seen packed into a story, worked in such a way as to become part of the plot although a ‘ba-dump, ching!’ could often be heard at the punch line. The second book, Theories of Flight, felt much more serious and hard-hitting although Morden’s fannishness could still be seen and there were humorous moments. Degrees of Freedom is part-way between the first two books in terms of intensity, light-hearted moments and fannishness wending its way into the story. Probably most notable of the references was Petrovich’s perpetual motion machine that produces greater amounts of electricity than it requires to run. And has an octagonal console. With a central column. That goes up and down. With sound effects.

The plot of Degrees of Freedom is a ‘whodunnit’ in that someone is out to get Petrovich, he must figure out who and how to outsmart that person. The ‘why’ is powerful: when the evil mastermind behind it all is revealed, Morden goes in no holds barred, writing powerful political commentary, although the outcome was probably a tad concise and optimistic to be realistic.

I absolutely loved the first book in this trilogy and I’ve enjoyed the second and third novels as well, in spite of a few reservations. In the beginning Petrovich was this fantastic geeky anti-hero who offended people as readily as Tyrion Lannister.

By Theories of Flight, Petrovich was gathering people around him to help him, most of whom were women. Petrovich doesn’t work with them as equals; instead he is boss ordering people around, while they blindly obey him. He’s surrounded by the kind of aura you’d expect a charismatic leader to possess, with all the women around him falling in love with him. I give full marks to Petrovich for being faithful to his wife even when he’s had a year without sex because she left him, but it’s cringe-worthy when a geeky guy, with no inherent charisma, an inability to work well with people and a general attitude (think middle-finger attitude) is surrounded by beautiful women who all want to get into his pants. I kept thinking Valentina and Tabletop should be partners based on their relationship with each other, rather than both being in luuurve with Petrovich. For the purposes of the plot and the narrative, I think Petrovich should have a maximum of two women who are in love with him or run the risk of becoming a squicky fanboy fantasy. At one point I thought Lucy, Petrovich’s adopted daughter was going to be in love with him too, but a sharp veer to the right avoided that, to my relief.

Overall this is an enjoyable series. I love Equations of Life and the subsequent books have good follow-through. Strengths of these books is that they are science fiction, written by a scientist, with fannish references and they are not doorstoppers.

A recommended read.