Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Galactic North by Alastair Reynolds

Time for some sci-fi. It won't be the last.

This is a collection of short stories by a bona fide astrophysicist, all set in the same universe. It's about different kinds of humans changing and evolving over the centuries and how those groups interact. Hive minds, cyborgs, genetically altered near-immortals and plenty of weirder things

It's hard SF, rooted in what's theoretically possible, so no warp drives or humanoid aliens. Instead you've got near-light speed travel, which throws up relatavistic paradoxes which I don't pretend to understand. And you've got very few aliens, and what there are are very alien indeed.

Best of all, it's dark. Pirates, insane computers, war criminals, genetic terrorists and robotic plagues all feature strongly. The best two stories here are horror stories. One's about a prick who collects the most dangerous alien creatures and human mutations in the galaxy. With hilarious results. The other's about a raid on on a hospital spaceship to capture a notorious general after a civil war. With even more hilarious results.

There's a real sense of scale here. It's set in different periods and you can feel the history and myth building up behind it all. It culminates in the titular story, which takes place over 40,000 years. It's got some great stuff in it, but it didn't really work. And since this is all the same world, I know how it all ends (not well.)

That's always going to be a problem with a short story collection - it's a mixed bag. But when it's good, it's very good. He's got a stack of big chunky novels set in the same "Revelation Space" universe, so I'll give one of them a read.

Next up - I've started another sci-fi book called Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts which is very strange and could be very brilliant. It's got Stalin in it. And I'm listening to Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, a historical novel about noted monastery-botherer Thomas Cromwell.

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