As with Revelation Space, this is the second time I’ve read Chasm City – and the first time was some years ago. Consequently, while there were a few things I remembered quite well, I still managed to be surprised by some of the twists and turns of the plot. This time, there were more occasions on which I picked up hints and allusions; I was quite proud of guessing what might be going on until I remembered that I’d already the thing…
Some spoilers follow
It’s another awesome space opera from Reynolds. One of the things which I had misremembered – and perhaps it applies more to one or both of the other Revelation Space books I’ve not reread yet – is the amount of cross-over between the stories. There are some allusions to ideas and people from Revelation Space here, but they are both very definitely stand-alone novels. And I like that; it’s a universe, rather than a series. I really liked that it ended with Tanner clearly talking to Khouri, which is one of the opening scenes from Revelation; it felt quite neat for readers of both books.
This book has quite a different feel from Revelation, which is interesting to see – to change from just your first to your second, particularly within the same universe, seems… game? Anyway, it is largely told with a first-person narrator – with occasional flashbacks to an historical character – and consequently the story is mostly linear (with the exception of those flashbacks, and the narrator’s own thinking about his past). I enjoy a narrator – particularly one, as in this instance, who is a bit unreliable. In fact I enjoyed most of the characters in this novel; there aren’t many, with the exception of the narrator (Tanner) who are particularly deeply developed, but they are certainly all individuated without becoming cliches. There’s a nice range of female and male characters, doing a range of different activities and with a range of different motivations – I think I said a similar thing about <i>Revelation</i>, but it’s true and it’s one of the appealing things about Reynolds.
The settings for Chasm are great. We’re in about the same time period as in Revelation, so chunks of the galaxy have been colonised, but there’s no FTL so getting places is still damn hard work. There are two prime locales: Chasm City itself, of course, on the planet Yellowstone, and the planet of Sky’s Edge. These are two radically different places, so Reynolds gets to indulge in two quite different visions of what interplanetary colonisation might look like. In thinking about that issue, I utterly adored the slow revelation about how the colonisation of Sky’s Edge came about; the slow generation-ships thing is enthralling, for me, and thinking about the lengths people might go to to get an edge is intriguing. I particularly enjoyed the slow but steady revelation and discussion of Sky Haussman’s character; that you start the novel knowing he was characterised as both a hero and a villain, and slowly that image is problematised… yeh, it really works for me. And Sky’s actions of course present an immense ethical quandary – which the reader can’t help but approach with the knowledge that it caused a centuries-long war on the planet itself. Chasm City, of course, is a wonderfully outrageous city, and I loved that Reynolds opened with an excerpt from a document explaining how the city has been affected by a plague – so the reader has that extra bit of information, and thus an advantage over Tanner. For me, it heightened the sympathy the reader could feel for him. And the plague itself iconic: something that affected the machinery of the place doesn’t seem disastrous, until you remember that this is a society using nano, with therefore machinery in everything – and everyone…. There are so many possibilities inherent in that idea.
The plot itself has a kinda revenge tragedy thing going on, which can be a bit tedious but in this instance is skilfully drawn out and well played, too. In fact there are numerous side-plots that at times could threaten to overwhelm the central point – the revenge – but ultimately Reynolds draws them all together and reveals that actually, he knew what he was doing all the time (of course).
It’s another of my favourites. Not quite as comforting as Revelation, in that the stuff about Gideon is rather off-putting, but familiar and relaxing nonetheless. And a damn good story.