Revenger (Revenger, #1)

By Alastair Reynolds

Rating: 3 stars

Two sisters run away from home and join the crew of a sunjammer – a solar sail ship that searches the remnants of the solar system looking for locked micro-worlds containing relics and money that can be sold. However, there’s more than treasure out there – not least pirates, including the infamous Bosa Sennen.

Blimey, this book was not what I expected at all. I was thinking I was in for a bit of light adventure in the Congregation that huddles around the Old Sun, which is more or less what I got for the first section, but then it suddenly changes, goes much darker in tone and becomes a revenge story. Fura Ness starts off as a likeable protagonist but she changes, becomes much harder and driven as the story goes on, making difficult choices and, to my mind, becoming much less likeable. I’m not really fan of that sort of revenge story either, so this ended up being a bit of a slog for me.

The worldbuilding in the book is fantastic. I really want to know more about the Congregation, and how they survive as billions of people hanging on in or on millions of tiny worldlets that emerged after the “sundering” of the worlds of the Solar System. The history stretches back ten million years or more, and this is the thirteenth time that the system has been populated (the 13th Occupation) in that time. Much of what is locked in the baubles comes from those older Occupations. That’s a huge amount of history and I’d really love to have seen more of that. But, I suppose there’s only so much that can be drip-fed without it seeming like infodumping.

Apparently this book is YA. That makes me think twice about today’s young adults. I thought it was very dark in places and so wouldn’t have called it that. I know the protagonist is young but beyond that, I couldn’t see anything differentiating this from an “adult” novel. I thought the language wasn’t toned down (apart from the made-up words: lungstuff, squawk etc) and it was very readable.

I think I figured out the whole Bosa Sennen being a really hideous Dread Pirate Roberts fairly early on – and who the current one was. The first encounter with her was really tough on me. We had this crew that I was starting to like and I was expecting to see much more of, and suddenly they’re all dead. In really horrible ways. That being quickly followed by the section back on Mazarile almost made me put down the book.

This would be two stars for me in terms of enjoyment, but I’m giving it the third star for how Reynolds made me feel throughout. That’s a skill and it deserves to be recognised.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575090552
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
Year of publication: 2016

Poseidon’s Wake (Poseidon’s Children, #3)

By Alastair Reynolds

Rating: 4 stars

I didn’t realise this tale of far-future space exploration was part of a series until I added it to my GoodReads list, a couple of hundred pages in. I found out later, from Reynolds’ website, that all three books in the series are intended to be able to be read individually and I’ve got to tip my hat to the man, I very much enjoyed this without having read the others in the series. Reynolds’ world-building is impeccable, he introduced elements that have presumably been major points in previous books with a deft touch, never infodumping, but never leaving me floundering, wondering what was going on.

I feel like I know Eunice and Chiku Akinya even though they never turn up in this book (sort of). The Tantors are fabulous creations and the Risen maintain their air of intimidating creepiness throughout. The themes are very broad, Reynolds’ certainly doesn’t stint there. The thoughts on machine intelligence, the idea of the Terror (with a capital T) and the constant theme of hope for mankind and the other intelligences it shares the universe with maybe actually getting along. That is worth reading. Kanu is probably the character who espouses that the most, particularly through his relationship with Swift.

I found Goma to be an interesting character, although she sometimes felt like she was there to push the plot forward more than anything else. And even as an atheist myself, I found her hard-line attitude to Peter Graves somewhat bewildering.

The only bit of characterisation that I really didn’t quite felt worked was Dakota’s change of heart on Poseiden. She’d been so focused on getting there for so long, and suddenly she changes her mind and thinks it maybe isn’t a good idea? I don’t really get that.

This was great space opera (and pleasingly sticking with slower-than-light travel for all concerned). I’m definitely going to go back and read the other books in the series now.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575090507
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2015

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

Century Rain

By Alastair Reynolds

Rating: 5 stars

Verity Auger is an archaeologist searching for artefacts in the ruins of a post-Nanocaust Earth when a mistake nearly costs the life of a young boy. Her boss uses this as leverage to get her involved in a secret project that involves illicit travel through an ancient alien hyperspace transit network controlled by a different faction of Humanity.

At the other end of the transit wormhole is an unpolluted Earth of three hundred years ago, except that in that world, the Second World War never happened. Auger must find the papers left behind by her predecessor, Susan White, who appears to have been murdered, and with a tenacious private detective and some seriously freaky children on her tail, that’s not going to be easy.

I really enjoyed this part space-opera and part alternative history novel. Despite (or perhaps because of) her prejudices, Auger is an interesting character, and I enjoyed some of the back story of the book, including the splitting into two factions: the Threshers, who reject nanotech and prefer to stay on the “threshold” of advanced technology; and the Slashers, who have gone whole hog and are now surrounded by a cloud of nanotech, surrounding and enhancing them at all times. Seeing Auger cope with an alternative 1950s France is fun, and the jazz-loving private detective, Wendell Floyd is a great character too.

There’s perhaps some comparison with NausicaƤ (which I’ve been reading recently) too, with Auger’s Earth being a warning of what can happen when Humanity tinkers too much with nature (the Nanocaust was caused by nanotech released into the atmosphere to control the weather that got out of control and eventually consumed every living creature on the planet). The story was tightly told with information being dripped out at just the right rate to avoid being infodump or getting too frustrating. An enjoyable book.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575076914
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group
Year of publication: 2004

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