Tag Archives: alastair reynolds

Bridging Infinity

This book was sent to me by the editor, at no cost.

unknownI have loved the Infinity series so far. I like that the focus is on science fiction, that it’s often a focus on the engineering side of the future but that that doesn’t preclude fascinating characters and intriguing worlds. I am consistently impressed by the variety of worlds presented and the writing talent included.

The anthology opens with a series of stories focused on the solar system. Alastair Reynolds gives us a problem with the sun where the narrative jumps tantalisingly between now and later, while Pat Cadigan provides what might be a prequel story for her “The Girl-Thing who went out for Sushi” in a story set on Earth but focused on colonising near Jupiter. Stephen Baxter goes to Venus with a sweeping story about human hubris and the problem of families. Charlie Jane Anders totally mocks the whole idea of going to space in a hilarious story of being, like, an adolescent in space? Tobias S Buckell and Karen Lord also take the long view, temporally speaking, about what it might mean to undertake engineering projects within the asteroid belt and elsewhere, given the distances (and therefore time) involved. Plus Calypso.

Naturally, there are some stories in the anthology that confront climate change – it’s understandably becoming a go-to theme. Cadigan’s story references the issues in passing; stories by Pamela Sargent, and Pat Murphy & Paul Doherty, suggest possible ways of dealing with the problem – the latter is one of my favourites, being both optimistic and pessimistic, and largely set in the Arctic. Ken Liu writes over an extremely long period of time in posing the idea that the coming of the singularity might solve climate change in a rather radical manner. And Thoraiya Dyer posits a rather intriguing solution to the loss of island real estate while also dealing with the problems of family.

There are also several stories with extra-solar settings. Kristine Kathryn Rusch combines desert urban planning on alien planets with a devastating mystery to great effect; Robert Reed writes a Great Ship story about how the materials you use (and the tools) can impact on the thing you’re making. Allen M Steele’s story sounds like it might be from a pre-existing set of stories, like the Great Ship suite, in that it’s focused on a group of wanderers in what is effectively a Dyson sphere called Hex. It’s less focused on the engineering and more focused on human exploration of alien tech.

A few stories didn’t especially work for me. Karin Lowachee’s story of a contractor alone on a supply depot installation didn’t have enough character development for me to get my teeth into, while Gregory Benford and Larry Niven made my teeth ache with their extra-heavy serves of techno speak and missing out on character or plot. An Owomoyela’s narrative didn’t quite seem to go anywhere… which given the narrative itself is kind of funny, but it still didn’t work for me.

Highly recommending this anthology for lovers of science fiction.

Galactic Suburbia 151

In which we consume culture and take names! get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia. 

WHAT’S NEW ON THE INTERNET?

Tansy’s novel Musketeer Space is half price this week on Kindle (and in other ebook stores)! Price goes back to normal on Wednesday.

CULTURE CONSUMED

Alisa: Vaginal Fantasy; Crosstalk, Connie Willis

Alex: Revenger, Alastair Reynolds; Crossroads of Canopy, Thoraiya Dyer; Stealing Snow, Danielle Paige – abandoned!; The Silk Roads, a New History of the World, Peter Frankopan

Tansy: Superior, Jessica Lack; Fangirl Happy Hour on Ghostbusters: Eps 49, 50 & 52

Please send feedback to us at galacticsuburbia@gmail.com, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook, support us at Patreon and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

Revenger

I received this book from the publisher, Hachette, at no cost. It’s out in September; RRP $32.99.

Unknown 7.21.29 PM.jpegIt’s hard to really talk about this book without massive spoilers that completely take away from the gripping revelations that come as the story unfolds. So I’ll do that below the cut. But firstly: I really like this cover! The flat picture doesn’t do it justice. The stark black with pinprick stars and a black silhouette of a spaceship in the middle – it’s lovely. The title font is a bit Alien, although without a narrative connection, and the silver does cool things in the light. I’m interested that the title is larger than Reynolds’ name, since on his last (solo) novel, Poseidon’s Wake, it wasn’t (nor on the novella Slow Bullets). Must be a deliberate decision but I couldn’t speak to why.

Anyway. It gets a lot darker than I was expecting, it’s fair to say – not in a bad way but in an intriguing way. Adrana and Fura are sisters from a sheltered little world and a sheltered little family who decide to run away to sea – well, to space. The crew they join is welcoming if a bit dubious, as you would be, but things generally go well… until they don’t. And then things go quite bad.

Fura is the narrator, and when the action opens she’s not yet reached her majority. It’s unclear how old that is on her world, but one of the early tensions is the question of whether Fura is capable of making decisions for herself, or if she’s just being pulled along by Adrana. Of course, as the story progresses she develops and grows and – no spoilers – shows that she can indeed be responsible. Ish. There are some really interesting relationships that develop, but they really take back seat to the development of Fura herself.

A note on language: Reynolds hasn’t gone all Andrew Macrae Trucksong and re-invented language to represent the immense span of time; neither is he insisting that this is English – it’s just some universal language. But it’s not just transliterated (as it were). The spaceship crew, like sailors of the 18th or 19th centuries, have their own patois: people are coves, there’s lots of abbreviation and slang. More generally there are some words that are different – lungstuff, for instance, for oxygen; my favourite is quoins, for money. It doesn’t always work – it doesn’t always feel completely natural – but I especially like that the different social groups are clearly differentiated by their language, which is very real.

I love the narrative but I am really, really intrigued by the universe that Reynolds has created here. It is – I am almost certain – our solar system, but it’s an unimaginable time in the future. There’s an enormous number of worlds called the Congregation, most of which are not worlds as we know them, but small and many clearly artificial. There have been many collapses and resurgences of humanity, with concomitant loss of memory and history and mysterious rubbish left behind. The ship Fura and Adrana head out on are, brutally, junk connoisseurs – what can they find in places that might have been picked over several times in the last few centuries? But there’s a trick there, since the places with good junk are protected and dangerous. And there are alien races, too. I would really, REALLY like to see more stories set in this world.

A couple spoilery thoughts below… but the long shot is, this is a great fun novel and I’m super excited to see yet what else comes out of Reynolds’ brain.

Continue reading →

Galactic Suburbia 144

In which books take longer to make than they do to read. You can get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia. 

What’s New on the Internet?

Nebula Awards given

CJ CHerryh named SFWA grandmaster

SF Signal closing – farewell to our friends and thanks for all the links!

Get in your nominations to us for the GS AWard: for activism and/ or communication that advances the feminist conversation in the field of speculative fiction in 2015.

CULTURE CONSUMED
Alex: The Expanse Season 1; The Medusa Chronicles, Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds; The Philosopher Kings, Jo Walton

Alisa: books released & in progress: Defying Doomsday, Sharp Shooter, Grant Watson’s upcoming collection of film essays – see her Friday night at Continuum!

Tansy: Finished writing a book! My research reading list over the last several years includes: Orlando Furioso (Ludovico Ariosto/Slavitt translation), Thomas Bulfinch’s The Age of Chivalry & Charlemagne, E Nesbit’s entire backlist, Christina Rossetti, George McDonald, etc.

Also: Tansy’s serial Glass Slipper Scandal is now complete at the Sheep Might Fly podcast.

Skype number: 03 90164171 (within Australia) +613 90164171 (from overseas)

Please send feedback to us at galacticsuburbia@gmail.com, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook, support us at Patreon and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

The Medusa Chronicles

This book was sent to me by the publisher at no cost.

Unknown.jpegSo. This book. When I heard that Alastair Reynolds and Stephen Baxter were collaborating, I was beside myself. This is two of my great SF loves coming together. It’s Robert Plant and Jim Morrison jamming.

At the back of my mind was the reminder that I haven’t quite adored Baxter’s latest novels, and that Reynolds’ latest novels have been quite different from his early ones too. NONETHELESS. Plant and Morrison, folks.

I really liked it… but I didn’t love it. It feels… old fashioned.

The premise: building on Arthur C Clarke’s “A Meeting with Medusa,” Baxter and Reynolds take the main character, Howard Falcon, who is a cyborg due to a serious crash years before, and extend him way into the future. This is a future where humanity is incredibly suspicious of machines and artificial intelligence, and Falcon – being the incredibly weird hybrid that he is – is often at the receiving end of that suspicion. But it also means that he’s useful as a mediator when humanity’s machines start developing consciousness, which means he’s there at the birth of that intelligence, which means he continues to be useful as an intermediary. This becomes the story of Falcon’s life, and thus the story of The Medusa Chronicles.

I did like it because I like thinking about humanity in the solar system and how that might work (this is another one where there’s looming interplanetary conflict, so apparently that’s unavoidable). I liked the whimsical attachment to the notion of ballooning as inspiration for astronauts and Jovian exploration. And I also like stories of the development of artificial intelligence and the consequences of that for humanity, although I did feel like that wasn’t explored enough here.

The novel feels a bit old-fashioned because I can’t quite fathom humanity being suspicious of machines. I assume this reflects the novels and other media I’ve been consuming – I mean yes, be suspicious, but surely only after they’ve shown that they want to kill us and use our bodies as compost? There’s also a significant level of info-dumping, which isn’t always a problem for me but can be a barrier, I know, for others. And, too, there’s a lack of significant character development. The reader gets to know Falcon almost by default, as our point of view, but most of the others – like Hope Dhoni, Falcon’s medical expert for much of his incredibly prolonged life – are almost faceless, ciphers.

There are some lovely moments and a few odd moments in the novel. The odd moments are especially where Falcon makes reference to old literature or films and wonders if anyone will get the reference – for example, to Tolkien – and yet Project Silenus is thus named because of Euripides, and in explaining the naming he doesn’t have to explain who Euripides is. I’m unconvinced about the longevity of Euripides over Tolkien (we’re talking centuries here), although I guess Euripides does have form. Some of the lovely moments are in the alternate history of NASA and thus humanity in space that Baxter and Reynolds present. Here, the threat of an asteroid completely changes the direction of the Apollo programme and has consequences for humanity going to Mars and beyond; the authors reference real astronauts, like Frank Borman and Charlie Duke, but give them a slightly different career path (and there’s no reference to ‘any similarity to real people is purely coincidental’ or however the line runs, in the fine print).

Overall this is a pretty good science fiction novel, but it’s not one of my favourites for the year.

Galactic Suburbia 124

An all culture consumed special (with a little awards chat just for old time’s sake). You can get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.

Hugo Awards update – how we voted. If you’re voting, get in before the eleventh hour!

World Fantasy Awards: Aussies on the ballot.

What Culture Have we Consumed?

Alisa: The Almighty Johnsons; Wayward Pines

Alex: Arrow season 1; Beauty, Sheri S Tepper; Poseidon’s Wake, Alastair Reynolds; Of Noble Family, Mary Robinette Kowal

Tansy: Uncanny Magazine No. 5: “Midnight Hour” by Mary Robinette Kowal, “Woman at Exhibition” by E. Lily Yu, “Ghost Champagne” by Charlie Jane Anders, “Catcall” by Delilah S Dawson, Natalie Luhrs “Ethics of Reviewing”. Black Canary #1. Glitch.

In August we will be reading:
James Tiptree Jr: The Double Life of Alice Sheldon, Julie Phillips
“Houston, Houston Do You Read?” and “Your Faces, O my Sisters, your Faces filled of Light!” by James Tiptree Jr.

Please send feedback to us at galacticsuburbia@gmail.com, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook, support us at Patreon and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

Slow Bullets

Alastair Reynolds is one of those authors that I basically preorder as soon as I hear something new is coming out. It’s fair to say that I haven’t loved the more recent stuff as much as the Revelation Space stories (something I am sure authors just loathe hearing), but I still read it and (generally… Terminal World didn’t work for me overall) enjoy it.

UnknownSlow Bullets is a stand-alone novella about war and renewal, peace and struggle, time and identity and sheer bloody-minded determination.

Scur is a soldier, although she wasn’t meant to be. Peace has been brokered but when your war spans multiple solar systems, it’s hard to get the message out. Scur ends up in stasis… and when she wakes up, something is deeply, deeply wrong. For a start she’s told that most of the others on the ship are war criminals; for another, the planet out the window doesn’t look familiar. And the nav beacons, that are meant to help with interstellar flight, appear to be on the blink….

There’s a lot going on here, and I can’t help but feel it might have been better served either as a novel or a short story (maybe novelette). With the latter, you could cut out some of the side-plots and focus really tightly on Scur and her revenge-seeking (which I didn’t love partly because it got a bit lost with everything else going on, partly because I don’t love revenge stories). With a novel, there would of course be more scope to examine the reactions of different people to their predicament, and spend more time on the issues of reconciliation (the ship is populated with people from both sides of the war, and it’s unclear to all of them who is a war criminal and who is not) and rebuilding lives that must now be entirely re-thought (no one is going back to Kansas).

I really loved the idea that if your main database is being corrupted (accidentally but irredeemably), and you’ve got this enormous spaceship with blank walls all around you, there’s a really obvious way of recording your history and culture for posterity.

I didn’t adore it but I am happy to have read it.

Galactic Suburbia 93!!

In which 2014 is officially a thing. Who saw that coming?

We’re back! How did you spend your summer? (yes, we know some of you spent it having winter, but honestly, is that our fault?)

Galactic Suburbia returns for a fresh new year of culture consumed, awards commentary, feminist snark and adorable baby gurgles.

Culture Consumed:

Alex: On the Steel Breeze, Alastair Reynolds; Riddick; The Deep: Here be Dragons; Once Upon a Time: New Fairy Tales (ed Paula Guran)

Alisa: Haven S1 and S2; Star Trek; Kaleidoscope submissions (PhD)

Tansy: Terry Pratchett: The Witches (board game), The Hour Season 1, A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan; When we Wake; Courtney Milan romance novels.

Pet subject: Gearing Up for Hugo Nominations – what we’ve read, what we recommend, and what we still plan to get to before the deadline.

Alisa: Reading – Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar, Coldest Girl in Cold Town by Holly Black

Alex: Saga; Ancillary Justice; Iron Man 3; still to watch Game of Thrones s3

Tansy: Still to read: Hild by Nicola Griffith, The Red by Linda Nagata, some novellas. Liz Bourke’s Sleeping with Monsters (Best Related Work or fan writer? Why doesn’t the Hugo have an Atheling?) Kirstyn McDermott’s Caution: Contains Small Parts. Supurbia (Graphic Story); The World’s End.

Galactic Suburbia Award!!

for activism and/or communication that advances the feminist conversation in the field of speculative fiction

Send us your suggestions and thoughts on who we should be looking at for the year that was 2013: blog posts, podcasts, GOH speeches and other awesome people talking about feminist stuff in interesting ways.

Please send feedback to us at galacticsuburbia@gmail.com, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

On the Edge of Infinity

Edge of Infinity is not especially concerned about Earth, but it cares deeply about humanity. It’s not blindly optimistic, but neither is it depressingly morbid. It cares about the little things and the big, it’s got romance and death, and lots and lots of adventure, set within our solar system but not on Earth. Also, space ships.

Pat Cadigan opens the anthology and immediately throws the reader into the position of deciding whether they can hack the displacement. “Nine decs into her second hitch, Fry hit a berg in the Main ring and broke her leg.” This, accompanied by the story’s title – “The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi” – is a very clear sign that Here Be Science Fiction; the sort of science fiction that requires the reader to do a bit of work, while trusting in the author that these things really will make sense. And, of course, they do; Cadigan is a marvellous writer who mixes the very weird with the quite familiar, and gently leads the reader to understanding where she’s going with her story. The unfamiliar language is used partly to warn the reader that this is not a situation they can just take for granted, but also because it’s entirely appropriate that language would change out there around the moons of Jupiter – perhaps especially, as in this case, when those living in an alien-to-humanity environment have themselves changed from the human standard, at least morphologically. Cadigan also makes some interesting points about how being “two-steppers” has impacted on humanity’s ways of thinking, especially with regard to binary decision making. At heart, this story is about choice: an individual’s freedom to make choices about their body and their livelihood and where they live. Just suggested in the background is also a broader discussion about political choice, too, with shades of James SA Corey’s Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War, about the place of Jupiter in the solar system. It’s a fitting opening to the anthology, flagging as it does many of the issues that resonate across the set.

Elizabeth Bear’s”The Deeps of the Sky,” which comes next, is the only story that focusses on aliens. Here again though the focus is on choice; Stormchases and his skiff have been out mining a storm for trace elements such as iron when a curious object appears in the sky, and he has to decide what to do about it. The plot is thus quite straightforward, but it’s the world building that makes this story an interesting one. As mentioned, it focusses on an alien society – probably living in Jupiter – and aside from the alien biology, the aspect Bear gives most attention is that of reproduction. Who gets to reproduce and with whom, and at what cost (…literally) is absorbing Stormchases, and therefore the narrative. And it is indeed different enough to cast a rather fascinating light on humanity’s own tendencies in those realms.

Bringing the anthology back closer to home (… again, literally) is James SA Corey’s “Drive”, a story that unfolds along two different temporal tracks: in one, Solomon has just taken off from Mars in his souped-up space craft; the other follows Solomon from his first encounter with Caitlin and their subsequent relationship. Like Cadigan, Corey envisages a solar system that is as uneasy with differentials in political power as it is with access to, and production of, resources. This provides much more of the narrative tension for Corey than it did for Cadigan; Earth’s attitude to Mars has an immediate impact on Solomon and his life. I’m excited to see stories like this one, despite its melancholy tone, because it puts the idea of colonising Mars squarely back into the realm of the possible, at least from an SF perspective. There’s no suggestion that it will be easy – quite the contrary – but at least humanity is there, reaching beyond our own troposphere. Somehow the idea of being out on Europa or Titan isn’t quite the same, even though the colonisation of Mars is generally a prerequisite of that further expansion.

Sandra McDonald and Stephen D Covey deliver “The Road to NPS,” similar to “Drive” in that it focusses on the issue of transportation – bringing to mind Samuel Delaney’s Nova, and the suggestion that once a civilisation expand beyond the solar system, transportation becomes the most important issue. For Rahiti, this presents a challenge he cannot leave alone – despite the threat, and very real danger, inherent in doing so. Rahiti is one of few antagonists of this anthology that I did not particularly connect to. I think this is partly because his motivation seemed to be entirely commercial – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it simply did not work for me. And he just didn’t seem like that nice a guy, overall.

The first AIs turn up in John Barnes’ “Swift as a Dream and Fleeting as a Sigh,” where, intriguingly, AIs are therapists. For humans. Which is about the most unlikely role I’ve ever read them in. This is one of the most complex stories of the anthology, narratively speaking. The “I” is the AI, and the narrative follows multiple threads. First, and appearing sporadically throughout, is the narrator’s own musings on its own capabilities – specifically the difference in subjective time that it and its human interlocutors experience. It draws a comparison for one of the humans: that “the ratio of [its] cycles of information processing per second to theirs is about the same as theirs to an oak.” In response to which, very sensibly, the human (eventually) asks what an oak would think about… which doesn’t seem to be the point, but perhaps from the AI’s point it is. Anyway, the story is a fascinating glimpse into what that sort of processing power might do (brain the size of a planet, and so on). The rest of the narrative involves the AI musing on its interactions with two humans it has counselled. Laura and Tyward see the AI for different reasons – Laura because of Ty, Ty because of an ant (a mechanical one). Their relationship, shown through the AI’s interactions with them as individuals, is poignant and realistic, even though I think the conclusion is a bit of a stretch. Finally, I’d like to point out how hard it was to write this without referring to the AI as ‘he’. I think this was because its character came across so strongly, and as humanly flawed rather than a remote perfect artefact, that it seemed wrong for it to be genderless. As for ‘he’ – well, yes. Aren’t all robots male? (sigh)

Paul McAuley’s “Macy Minnot’s Last Christmas on Dione, Ring Racing, Fiddler’s Green, the Potter’s Garden” wins for longest title. It, as a title, also covers the most important things that Mai Kumal learns about when she travels to Dione, one of Saturn’s moons, on the occasion of her father’s death there. Overall this is a less a narrative, really, than a rumination on what humanity might do Out There, so far away from the safe little blue ball. Colonisation; extreme adventure sports; secretive colonisation; and outrageous, lavish works of art. This is definitely one of the more overtly optimistic pieces of the anthology. While it’s a bit sad that Mai and her father were estranged, this is set against a glorious back drop of humanity’s potential, both in terms of relationships and Grand Achievements. And I think it’s a wonderful dream, for that.

Taking quite a different tack, one of the narratively most straightforward stories is “Safety Tests.” Here, Kristine Kathryn Rusch takes a very normal, albeit still dangerous and necessary aspect of humanity + machinery – the idea of needing a licence – and explores it. In space. Using spaceships. Around an inhabited space station. Over the course of a single day, Devlin must deal with six quite different applicants for public piloting licences. Things progress from there about as Devlin appears to expect every day to progress. That is, poorly. There’s not much extra world building built into this story, but it’s the sort of situation one can imagine fitting into most any space-faring story (imagine Ellen Ripley or Han Solo going for their licences. I dare you).

“Bricks, Sticks, Straw” is my favourite story of all, so thank you very much Gwyneth Jones. Set very briefly on Earth, the focus is on four Remote Presence devices, operated by humans on Earth but physically located on the four Galilean moons of Jupiter. Thanks to a solar storm, the link to those devices is severed, but the software agents… well. They continue to exist, and to operate, if in rather different ways from what their designers and operators would recognise. These manifestations are wonderfully thought out – how such software, designed to be intelligent and run programmes, might react to apparently being abandoned by their makers, and how they might interact after that happens. (It does make me wonder somewhat about the poor old Mars landers and rovers….) Sophie, on Callisto, is the focus of the story: she is both an array collecting data of the Jovian system; and a memory, or a remnant, or an avatar of the Sophie back on Earth. Of the four devices, she is the only one who both accepts this reality and thinks that getting back in touch with Earth is actually important. So this is the only story that does not imagine humanity having literally spread out through the solar system – yet, anyway; it’s also the story that feels temporally closest to Now. Sophie is delightfully engaging, and her concerns entirely realistic (within the bounds of the story, naturally).

Following a theme of Hannu Rajaniemi work in Jonathan Strahan anthologies (… that would be two from two, so maybe not a theme yet; the other one was “The Server and the Dragon,” in Engineering Infinity), “Tyche and the Ants” is the most magical-seeming of these stories, while – as the reader suspects throughout and has confirmed by the ending – having a very solid science fictional basis to everything; it’s the perception that lends the magic, not the action. It also comes close to the Jones story as being my favourite. Tyche lives on the moon, dividing her time between the Base, where she’s meant to stay, with only the Brain for company; and the place through the Secret Door, where waits the Magician and various other creatures. Her seemingly happy life is, however, disturbed the day the ants come to the moon. On one level this can be read as a poignant almost-fairytale; it’s sweet, if combined with some rather sad moments because of Tyche’s confusion. However, Rajaniemi does that wonderful thing of suggesting an enormous background to the story, without ever overwhelming the immediate story – and I now really want a novel set in this universe. Please. Because there are all sorts of ideas about humanity that are suggested at but not fully developed.

The main narrative thread of most of these stories so far (the Barnes is perhaps the exception) has encompassed a relatively short timeframe. Not so Stephen Baxter’s “Obelisk.” Beginning with the arrival of Wei Binglin on Mars, as he pilots the Sunflower in after a very difficult voyage, the story follows the next several decades of Binglin’s life as he adapts to Mars, deals with the brash American Bill Kendrick, and both watches Mars develop and assists in that happening. Binglin is an interesting character through which to explore this; he feels a great deal of guilt concerning the Sunflower, and he’s unconvinced, early on, about living planetside. His growth as a character works overall, and I can absolutely agree with how Baxter imagines Mars bootstrapping itself. And the fact that he imagines it as a largely Chinese endeavour is certainly believable, although there’s not a whole lot of Chinese-specific culture to be seen. However, I was troubled by the way Baxter dealt with Xue Ling, Binglin’s adopted daughter. The role she plays seems largely superfluous; certainly the apparent pull she exerts on both Binglin and Kendrick is not required to get them to do what they do. Rather she sometimes seems like an excuse. Her actions at the conclusion of the story were especially problematic, seeming not to fit in at all and feeling instead like gratuitous sentimentality on Baxter’s part, or as if there needed to be some big dramatic Thing to impart some sense of occasion to the story. It was unneeded and I think actually undercut the rest of the story.

Alastair Reynolds’ “Vainglory” is another story that uses two temporal tracks. In the first, Loti Hung is confronted by Vanya Ingvar, and asked some uncomfortable questions about her interactions with a certain Skanda Abrud; while the second is essentially Loti remembering exactly that interaction. While many of the central characters throughout this anthology have been engineer or science-y types (although not all, Tyche in Rajaniemi’s story and Mai is McAuley’s especially), Loti is quite different: she’s an artist. Specifically, a rock artist – someone who carves rock on a massive scale – we’re talking asteroids here. And I love the very idea of a science fiction story that focusses on the possibilities for art in the future, in these far-out locations humanity may find itself in (McAuley does a similar thing). The story is about one of Loti’s commissions, and it not turning out to be quite what she thought; and Ingvar investigating just exactly went on with it. The interaction between the two women is understated and believable, as is that between Loti and Skanda. Again, this quite personal story is set against a much larger backdrop of solar system colonisation, the arrogance of wealth, and questions of justice.

While transportation may be one of the major issues of solar system colonisation, as shown in “Drive” and ” The Road to NPS,” solar system habitation is going to be greatly impacted by something that already affects large swathes of Earth: access to water. In “Water Rights,” by An Owomoyela, this issue is front and centre after an explosion interrupts the water supply for many of the near-Earth colonies. This is of immediate interest to Jordan Owole because, as the owner of an orbiting hydroponics outfit – which naturally has a large reservoir – she’s now become of great interest both to the authorities and to independent orbiting homesteaders. Which is an uncomfortable position to be in, to say the least. While this sounds potentially depressing, Owomoyela pulls a beautiful turn at the end which nearly brought tears to my eyes, and makes it amongst the more obviously optimistic of the anthology.

The ultimate story in this set is from Bruce Sterling, and a weird one it is. “The Peak of Eternal Light” is set on Mercury – a Mercury with incredibly restrictive and quite bizarre gender restrictions, especially when it comes to marriage. There were moments when I, as a woman, found reading this story actively unpleasant; while Sterling may not (probably does not) accept the ideas presented here as worthy, and does indeed go on to critique them to some extent, it was still not an enjoyable experience. There are a number of instances where he veers very close to existing stereotypes that, in a futuristic setting – even with outre accoutrements intended to suggest perhaps that this is new and weird – were depressing to imagine continuing beyond the confines of Earth. Marriages are entirely arranged and intended to be endured, nothing more; couples spend time with one another in strictly regimented ways, and the women appear to live in the equivalent of a harem. The central couple, who refer to each other as Mr and Mrs Peretz, do begin to question some of the limitations placed on them; and I did enjoy the idea that the bicycle, which was indeed a revolutionary form of transportation in its time for women, would find a new lease on life on Mercury. This questioning, though, did not compensate for the overall image of life on that planet. I do not want Sterling’s vision of the future.

Overall, this is an awfully good anthology. And it’s very exciting indeed to read an anthology entirely dedicated to science fiction, and science fiction of what might be called the medium term future; not the immediate collapse of Earth’s ecosystem, nor the humans-spanning-the-galaxy stories (which I do adore, I’ll be honest). It’s an anthology that spans ideas, planets, concepts, personalities and the future of humanity. What’s not to like?

Blue Remembered Earth: a belated mini review

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.

Natch.

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.