I got this after reading Robert Reed’s collection The Greatship, which consists of course of stories all set on said Greatship. This novel takes some of those stories and characters and turns them into a more complex story.
The basic idea is that many centuries ago, humanity were lucky enough to be the ones to first spy this enormous ship hurtling between the galaxies, about to encounter the Milky Way. They sent out ships and claimed it, and after a while started to allow other sentient beings to come on board too – as passengers.
When Reed says Great, he means Great. In one of the short stories the ship is described as being roughly the size of Uranus – and entirely inhabited inside, which just gives the most mammoth scale. The title gives some indication what the focus of the story is….
There is nothing straightforward about this novel. Basically, the plot goes: twist – twist – double cross – twist – surprise! – twist – twist – KAPOW. It certainly kept me intrigued.
The one real problem I had with the book is the same one I had with the short stories. With functionally immortal human characters, Reed has no compunction about stretching the story over centuries – or millennia. And my brain just can’t deal with those sorts of spans of time, it seems, when the characters are basically standing still. (Because while the Greatship is, indeed, a ship, the point is not really the journey as it is on ships in, say, Alastair Reynolds’ books that also span a long time.) So sometimes I converted the years into days, and sometimes I just blanked on the number and read ‘an awfully long time’. And the specific time doesn’t really matter too much, so that worked out.
I guess you could call this ‘hard’ science fiction because there’s some stuff about science and all. I mention this because Reed’s bio says he’s got a reputation for ‘cutting-edge hard science fiction’. But the reality is that this story isn’t really about the science or engineering aspects of the problems facing the crew of the ship; it’s about the crew themselves, and how they react in situations and how they deal with each other and others they encounter. The rest of the bio does admit that his ‘hard science fiction’ is ‘bound together by strong characters and intricate plots’ which sounds to me like trying to avoid the idea that a man can write excellent science fiction that is, gasp, character and/or plot driven rather than entirely science-centric. This is me rolling my eyes.