From the British author of Molly Zero (1983): eight linked stories, 1983-85, represented as a novel--predictably, therefore, without an overall plot or too much cohesion; though some of the characters do recur. A devastating nuclear war has faded into myth; the still-habitable parts of the world are dominated by the inflexible Variant Church and the Kites, huge, elaborate creations often flown with a human observer aboard, which--so the Church instructs--keep watch over the blue-glowing ""demon-lands"" and prevent the demons from invading. (Nobody has ever seen a demon, however.) The stories center on these Kites, their complex engineering, the men who build, maintain, and fly them, their adventures, loves and entanglements--although the social system that supports all this is nigh invisible. More successfully, the stories focus on personalities. For instance: young flier Raoul loves his beautiful, intelligent but inarticulate sister Tan to distraction--but then she's condemned as feebleminded by the Church; administrator Rand loses everything, including his beloved, to his conscienceless, manipulating foster-father; engaging streetwise waif Velvet (complete with incongruous gutter-Cockney accent), forced to procure for an insatiable but good-hearted nymphomaniac, is informally adopted by the same Rand. Finally, right-wing fanatics plunge the land into civil war; unfortunately, the last tale, which ties at least some of the common threads together, is out of tune with the rest of the yarns and resembles Disney at its most strained and mawkish. Dramatic and often engrossing storytelling, then, though marred by patches of silly sentiment, lots of loose ends, and the unconvincing backdrop--so the whole remains less than the sum of the parts.