Dance for the Ivory Madonna
In 2042, a united Africa is a world power; the US is split into three nations; special interest groups have their own house in Congress; and the latest craze is RCSpex: cheap, lightweight data goggles that bring virtual reality to the masses, superimposed over everyday life.
Eighteen years ago . . .
When Damien was eight, his father vanished - replaced by an impostor. The stranger stole his father's identity and murdered his mother, altering digital records to conceal the crime. Damien, finding that no adults believed him, fled to live with relatives.
Now . . .
Damien is an adult; an operative in a covert international organization, acting under the command of the legendary Ivory Madonna. He has the power, he has the support of his friends - and now it's time to avenge his father. And, if he can, to save the world in the process.
"Imagine a Stand on Zanzibar written by a left-wing Robert Heinlein, and infused with the most exciting possibilities of the new cyber-technology: Dance for the Ivory Madonna." -Melissa Scott, author of Dreaming Metal, The Jazz
Library Journal says: "As a dual citizen of the United States and the new African nation of Umoja and a task leader for an international organization known as Nexus, Damien Nshogoza travels to the world's hot spots, addressing political and social disturbances as necessary. But Damien has another, more personal, agenda-to seek revenge against the impostor who replaced his father and murdered his mother. Set during the mid-21st century in a world ravaged by AIDS and myriad other problems, this latest work by Sakers (The Leaves of October) offers a vivid and plausible description of a near-future in which humanity's fate hinges on the deeds of a few pivotal individuals. For most sf collections."
Publisher's Weekly says: "In Don Sakers Dance for the Ivory Madonna, it's 2042, and the U.S. has split into three nations; special interest groups have their own House in Congress; artificial intelligence has kicked humans out of cyberspace; and the African continent, a hotbed of technological advancement, is united under a contract government called Umoja. Making his way through this brave new world is a young African-American operative of a secret organization whose task is to avenge his father's murder -- and save humankind."
Dance for the Ivory Madonna was the featured book in the March 2002 issue of SFRevu.com. There is also an interview with Don about the book. Take a look!
Science Fiction Chronicle says: "Don Sakers has here written something of a kitchen sink novel. In the not too distant future, America has split into three countries, and the government of what remains of the original nation has been dramatically changed. Africa has been ravaged by AIDS, and many of the former African nations have merged into one larger superstate. The protagonist is from this region, although he fled to the US following the murder of his father. Now he is an agent, working for the Ivory Madonna, an international manipulator with an elaborate spy network, and he's returning for revenge. Throw into the mix a variety of subplots involving a religious dictatorship, prejudice against gays, racial politics, etc., and you get a very large, occasionally disjointed novel that has pockets of really good stuff connected sometimes by less interesting transitional material. I'd give this one a mixed review because its ambitions sometimes surpass its reach, but Sakers certainly makes a good effort. -Science Fiction Chronicle, March 2002, p. 37
Wavelengths Online says: "Years ago, I was blown away by the originality of The Leaves of October, an underrated SF gem by Don Sakers. Its haunting lyricism left me craving more. Now, in his first novel since 1988, Sakers has provided an ample reward for my patience: Dance for the Ivory Madonna.
In this near-future scenario, Damien Nshogoza, a dual citizen of the U.S. and the new African nation of Umoja, helps to lead mankind through an international crisis under the direction of Miranda Maris, the legendary Ivory Madonna. His associate, Penylle Norton, is a young psi-gifted woman who aids him as an intermediary between the physical world and cyberspace where humans have just been evicted by artificial intelligence.
Damien also pursues a personal agenda in his attempt to expose Marc Hoister, a fanatical imposter who had murdered his mother and stolen his father's identity. As the various subplots are revealed, we are drawn into an intricate web of places and events and the abilities of a handful of people who have been fated to deal with them.
The reader is also informed of the myriad changes that occur over the first half of the 21st century: North America is divided into new nations, Africa becomes a technological leader, there is a new House in Congress dedicated to special interest groups, humanity is still ravaged by AIDS along with many new diseases, off-world colonies have been established on the moon and on Mars, cyberspace has been expanded to astounding proportions. Additionally, just about everyone views their immediate environment through RCSpex, an invention which transforms the mundane world into a fantasy-enhanced version of itself. Other scientific advancements and items of social and economic progress are constantly defined throughout the story by the employment of captivating newsreels, messages and statistics. Characterizations are quite diverse, especially the host of eccentric creative types who inhabit Maris Institute, the Ivory Madonna's secluded universe. These account for some of the book's better moments.
Damien, the African-American protagonist, navigates the uncharted regions of cyberspace as easily as he traverses the reorganized territories of a future world or the inner workings of a covert international organization called the Nexus. (Readers may recognize some more familiar associations, particularly one devoted to GLBT fandom!) In the pivotal character of Penylle we meet someone with conflicting loyalties and extraordinary powers. With the portrayal of the Ivory Madonna, the author excels at introducing the real woman behind the myth. She is especially endearing when she takes a gay youth named Jackie under her wing and smuggles him into Fort Shepard (yes, as in Matthew!) Spaceport near Laramie. His situation is handled quite sensitively; it is through Jackie's eyes that we obtain a glimpse of the true meaning of freedom.
It must have taken an enormous amount of research to provide this book with scientific and sociopolitical foundations for its credible and nicely delineated near-future setting. Fortunately, the author embellishes each premise by his deft balance of statistical elements with those of a more poetic, metaphysical nature. His AI's, for example, speak only in metaphors.
Yet, it is they who possess ultimate technological control of mankind's destiny. Depictions of their cyberspace domain are rendered through the imagery of fantastic landscapes, psi abilities, and human sensations. Much of this narrative is printed in alternating fonts and recounted using extensive flashbacks, techniques that require greater concentration than usual on the reader's part. But the compensation of suspenseful pacing and unpredictability make it well worth the effort.
Most impressive of all is the political conscience that permeates this book. Through its futuristic viewpoints, our current prejudices and tolerances are put into perspective; we are forced to confront their consequences. Furthermore, Sakers makes us question the ways that technology is transforming our lives, our dependence upon political and religious conventions, and the (mis)treatment of various races and social classes.
Despite the seriousness of such themes, the author utilizes his writing style and voice to prove that he is not devoid of levity. Particularly amusing is his method of replacing potentially objectionable words in his text. It is also not unusual for him to come up with humorous references to present-day culture by satirizing pop icons or creating parodies of familiar music and dance crazes. These and other contemporary allusions give this story that extra layer of verisimilitude. There were areas where the plausibility of certain situations within the chronology of the narrative's time span became questionable. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by the innovative fashion in which the author pushed those boundaries.
Though it may not be unique that a writer possesses the skills to do this, it is certainly rare for one to have the courage to take such risks. Don Sakers does. Good speculative fiction should evoke a sense of wonder even as it entertains. Better writing of this type should resonate for the reader on a grand scale as well as on a purely personal level. Genre stories have more than the ability to attain these ends; they have the duty to give us the insight into the ultimate outcome of our current actions and policies, be they accomplishments or disasters. Dance for the Ivory Madonna achieves this quite beautifully."
Richard Mandrachio, Reviewer Wavelengths Online, Issue #6 April 2002 - July 2002
"RCSpex hit the market in February—cheap, lightweight data goggles that brought virtual reality to the masses, superimposed over everyday life. By year’s end, over a hundred million were seeing the world through rose-colored spectacles."