So… I read this ages ago, and while I talked about it on Galactic Suburbia (well, rambled incoherently, probably) I just haven’t got around to writing about it properly. The longer I left it, the harder it was to come to it. Until we get to now, when my pile of books that I want to review is growing rapidly, so obviously the thing to do is to go back to the beginning and get this one done.
I’m sure I had lots of interesting things to say, but I have of course forgotten many of them in the intervening months (it was November that I read it). What I haven’t forgotten is how much I liked it – and before Sean or someone teases me about being Reynolds-obsessed, I wasn’t a huge fan of his last novel, Terminal World, so let’s just accept that I can indeed be objective and move on.
The novel opens with the death of a family matriarch, an event which spins all sorts of interesting consequences especially for one grandson, Geoffrey, and for his sister Sunday as well. They are led by various cryptic clues to caches hidden by their grandmother over an extended period of time – which eventually lead them to discover a secret which will change their family, their family’s business, and the way humanity views its future.
Geoffrey is an intriguing protagonist. He is the black sheep of the family, evincing little interest in the family business – essentially freighting stuff around the solar system – and generally annoying his more committed cousins. His interests instead lie with elephants, conserving them and getting to understand them better. This is such an off-beat love for a science fiction novel that I was immediately delighted, I have to say. His elephantine interests do end up having some bearing on the plot, but not as much as I might have expected; it’s mostly just what he’s into. I also really liked that the family is African; Tanzanian, to be precise. This is just something that is – Africa as a whole has come through into the 22nd century doing fairly well, and taken its place as a developed continent, leading the way in some areas.
This is near-future Earth (by Reynolds standards) – the 22nd century. It’s post-global climate crisis, which wasn’t quite as bad as it might have been but still quite traumatic thankyouverymuch, and there are some moves underway to improve the ecosystem. Much of the solar system is inhabited, to one degree or another – Mars and the Moon quite substantially, understandably thinning out as you move away from the Sun. The economy is going fairly well in most places; politics doesn’t get a huge amount of pagespace. There is new and interesting technology in terms of communication, and transport, and living underwater. This all sounds fairly familiar – either from our world or from standard science fiction – and a nice enough place to live, and it is… until you start realising how insidious the Mechanism is. The Mechanism would have Orwell spinning in his grave. It knows where you are and everyone else is at any given time, it knows what you are feeling, and if you are feeling aggressive it is able to stop you before you act on that aggression. It is CCTV and Google knowing your search history and ID cards taken to a scary degree. And what is perhaps most scary is that Reynolds does not give it a central place in his narrative. It is simply there. It’s accepted as a part of society by most of humanity – not a good part or a bad part, usually, but a necessary part, an obvious part. And if you buck against it – well, you’re a problem.
Overall… interesting, well-rounded characters; well-paced action; nicely developed society with pleasing as well as ominous aspects; and it’s the first in a trilogy. I am really looking forward to the next two.