House of Suns

By Alastair Reynolds

Rating: 4 stars

Purslane and Campion are two “shatterlings” of the Gentian Line. At the dawn of the spacefaring age, Abigail Gentian, from a family of experts in cloning, created a thousand clones of herself, adjusted to be male and female, downloaded her personality into them and sent them wandering the galaxy, recording their knowledge and exchanging memories during their reunions after each circuit of the galaxy, 200k or so years apart. This time they’re running late for the latest reunion and when they arrive they find that the gathering was attacked and the Line massacred. Only a few have escaped, including Purslane and Campion, and they must discover who the attackers are and what the connection is to the mysterious House of Suns, and in the process uncover a much greater conspiracy and must confront their own history.

I love the scale of this book. The shatterlings are about six million years old measured in objective time, although they spend a lot of it in statis while travelling between stars (nobody’s figured out FTL travel even after six million years of Human development) they are still subjectively many thousands of years old, something that is never really discussed much in the book. The Lines (the Gentians aren’t the only Shattered Line, they form their own group called the Commonality) have a huge amount of power and prestige in the Human meta-civilisation of the galaxy partly because of their longevity and partly because of their stores of knowledge that that they trade through the galaxy.

One of the things that the Lines have observed over the six million years of their existence is what they call “turnover”. This means that civilisations “stuck in realtime” tend not to last longer than a few thousand or tens of thousands of years, whether they’re benign or not (sort of explaining why the technology isn’t even more advanced than it already is: they’ve got inertia and gravity manipulation and statis but no Dyson spheres or macro-sized wormholes).

The story is told alternatively from Purslane and Campion’s viewpoints, alternating per chapter, and if there’s one criticism that I might have it’s that the two protagonists don’t necessarily have particularly distinct voices. The story also seemed to slow down quite a lot when the shatterlings made it to the emergency rendezvous planet and spent a long time sitting around talking. Once they were into space again it sped up, almost into overdrive, with revelations coming thick and fast.

Overall, I found it a great space opera that engaged my attention and held it right to the end.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575099128
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2008

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