Wednesday, 29 June 2011
House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds
It's set millions of years in the future, and across the galaxy humanity's evolved down countless routes, from furry winged people to whale-sized worms, from underwater slugs covered in barnacles to planet-spanning posthuman gods. But the characters we follow take a wider view of things. They're immortal clones and sentient robots, compared to whom the other interstellar civilisations rise and fall in the blink of an eye. They call it "turnover."
This huge scale is made possible not just by immortality, but space travel. Reynolds always seems to have a bee in his bonnet about faster than light travel, and good on him I say. It takes hundreds, even thousands of years to travel from one star to the other, but this becomes integral to the plot and the way the characters interact.
What also works well are the descriptions. Worlds which feel like they've come from the cover of a Yes album. Vast spaceships in the shape of headless swans and "art-deco rhombuses." It feels like how I always thought sci-fi should feel when I was a kid. And on top of all that you've got brilliant action scenes, engaging characters, and a great plot with big galactic mysteries to solve. Yet it still doesn't really work.
I'm going to speculate that it comes from a certain slapdash attitude to the plotting. For instance, one of the most interesting characters is killed off fairly early on in very suspicious circumstances. It's never mentioned again. The main story concerns a big massacre, but the reason for it being carried out is deeply unconvincing. It just seems to be there to move the story along, and I remember a very similar problem in Century Rain. By the end there are so many loose ends, that you don't care about the big awesome finale.
This is such a pity because for much of the time I was enjoying this book more than any other I've read this year. Seriously, sort it out Reynolds.
I've already finished another book, Sputnik Caledonia, which I'll review soon. And I should rattle through a slim volume about great British eccentrics fairly quickly.