(Amusingly, I blogged about this book the first time I read it… five years ago!)
So my love of Reynolds’ work is becoming embarrassingly well known. To the point where a number of people at Natcon asked me which one they should read. The first person to do so admitted that they are not huge fans of very far-future SF, which therefore makes House of Suns – probably my favouritest of his books ever – a bit inaccessible. And I wasn’t sure how she felt about the slightly baroque-feeling SF that is Revelation Space. So I suggested Pushing Ice, because I cannot bring myself to recommend Terminal World (I am still getting over that disappointment and will have to read it again sometime to figure out whether I am being silly or not). And I recommended it to a few other people, too… and then realised that I hadn’t actually read it since that first time. I’ll admit to being a little worried that maybe it wasn’t as good as I remembered, because then I would be responsible for other people not liking Reynolds, and then MY LIFE WOULD BE OVER.
Anyway, the prologue made me actually wince when I read it… because it’s set 18,000 years in the future. Oops. Happily, it’s a fairly accessible 18,000 years in the future, because it’s about a politician making deals and proposals. Her name is Chromis Pasqueflower Bowerbird, and the parliament is made up of several solar systems, but still – it’s familiar. And then it goes waaay back in time to 2057, where Rockhopper is an asteroid-mining ship about to be sent on a rather extraordinary mission. Janus, one of Saturn’s moons, suddenly starts acting in a most un-moon-like manner, which is of course something to be investigated.
What happens during the chase, and after catching it, is what the plot revolves around. But it’s not a story about technology, or a first-contact story (although there is some of that), or even really about the exploration of space. Instead, it’s about the human interactions that take place in situations like this: a small number of people confined together for an extended period of time; a small number of people forced to make difficult, sometimes lift-threatening decisions. And at heart it revolves around the friendship of two women: the captain of Rockhopper, Bella Lind, and her best friend Svetlana.
The plot, while linear (with the exception of the prologue), does not simply follow the spacers through their adventures, one after the other. Instead it skips forward several times, sometimes over decades. After the initial adventure of chasing down the ‘moon’, and the repercussions of doing so, the narrative essentially consists of extended snapshots. It shows how society changes – and remains static – over those periods; it looks at how human interactions change, and how small things impact on major decisions. How one grudge can change the way a whole community works.
I loved it. Again. I loved the space bits and, I guess, the more specifically SF bits; they weren’t too tech-heavy, but definitely detailed enough to be enthralling. The interactions with aliens (spoiler!) were cleverly, and sympathetically, and subtly, done.
I loved the depiction of how a society might function in an enclosed space, and over such a long time, too. It’s probably a bit romantic in that the society doesn’t completely implode, but I’m fine with that – there are other places for reading about societies that disintegrate horrifically.
I liked the characters. There are none that I can say that I actually loved – they’re just not that sort of people, which I perversely liked, because it pushes them more towards the believability end of the spectrum. Neither Bella nor Svetlana, leaders at different points in the narrative, come out as particularly rosy – one looks slightly better, at times, but both are, simply, very human. Flaws, frailties, grudges, narrow-mindedness, ambitions… hopes, dreams, and sacrifice.
So, I’m happy with having recommended this! It’s a fairly good example, I think, of what Reynolds writes. An awesome reach, cool characters, and galactic-yet-still-human ideas.
I’m enjoying re-reading.