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4.2 out of 5 stars
House of Suns (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 9 October 2009
This excellent novel has a short story prequel, unfortunately absent from this volume: 'The Thousandth Night'. It is available in Gardner Dozois One Million A.D. anthology. As for House of Suns, in my humble opinion, this is Reynolds' best novel to date. Future immortal clones of a person explore the Milky Way and meet to reconvene every 200,000 years. Reynolds has this unique ability to render his science as captivating as the story itself. Read Thousandth Night first!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Alastair Reynolds has written the best galaxy-spanning, big-idea space opera since Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon The Deep. It has a fascinating universe with characters operating from truly deep-time, cross-galaxy perspectives. Among them are:

Campion and Purslane, two non-identical clones from an original set of a thousand "shatterlings." They and their siblings were created to repeatedly make exploratory circuits of the galaxy and meet every 200,000 years or so to share memories and plan their next circuits. Risking official censure, Campion and Purslane consort during their circuits rather than exploring independently.

Hesperus, a robot of the Machine People who has lost much of his memory, but strives to discover and complete his mission. His actions demonstrate repeated loyalty to Campion and Purslane.

The Spirit of the Air who was once a man, became a machine intelligence, and finally evolved into a distributed machine intelligence. It controls the climate of the planet Neume and is regarded by the population as a capricious and inscrutable god. Asking the Spirit for favors is dangerous to everyone.

The Vigilance, a civilization of immortal archivists, collects information about the entire galaxy, continually sifting and prioritizing it. Some of this information is shared with other civilizations--with unforeseen consequences.

The novel is also rich with highly-imaginative Big Ideas. Stardams are containment devices of only partially understood technology that can contain entire solar systems. Aspic of Machines is a high-tech paste that can perform any number of miraculous tasks--just smear it on the problem surface. "Whisking" from place to place using dynamic transporters seems the least of the marvels available in the far-distant future.

The book has two characterization flaws worth mentioning. First, many of the long-lived characters--particularly Campion and Purslane's fellow shatterlings--lack the experience and insight one would expect from human beings who have lived for tens of thousands of years. The author might learn a lesson or two from the age-weary wisdom of Poul Anderson's characters in The Boat of A Million Years. Second, many of the shatterlings are difficult to tell apart given what little we learn about them. This is particularly frustrating when readers are trying to figure out which one is a traitor to the Gentian Line. The author could have extracted key episodes from each shatterling's history and presented a Tom Clancy-like one-page profile that left readers with a feel for the shatterling's personality and motives.

There are also two story weaknesses. I won't summarize the plot, as it is best experienced without advance cueing. I will say that it drags in places. I am tempted to conclude that the author does this deliberately to help us short-lifers understand the book's timescale, but it happens too often in dialogue for this to be entirely true. While there are interesting and surprising resolutions to many of the questions raised in the story, there are some left unresolved. For me this felt more like unpolished storytelling than cliff-hanging for a possible sequel. Your mileage may vary.

Despite having grumbled over its flaws, I recommend the book to my fellow SF fans as enjoyable and thought-provoking. After reading it I continue to regard Alastair Reynolds as one of my favorite SF authors. Pick up this book and enjoy the long journey he has mapped out for us.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
On my continuing mission to find some modern Sci-Fi that I enjoy as much as the classics from the likes of Azimov, Harrison, Pohl, Aldiss and the rest, I have recently been stumbling around rather unsuccessfully. I obviously encountered the incomparable Iain M. Banks back in the late 80's but I have never found anyone else with his depth and scope of imagination.

Until, that is, I happened across Alistair Reynolds while browsing for new (to me) authors. What a find! I suppose this book could be summed up as an ultimately intergalactic space opera action mystery love story, but that doesn't do it justice. The shatterling concept, by itself, is brilliantly original, but the characterisation and galaxy & millennia spanning narrative are simply magnificent. I'm not entirely sure the early life of Abigail Gentian and her subsequent Palatial obsession adds an awful lot to the story, but inasmuch as they pertain to her personality and that of her shatterlings, they are relevant and add depth to the narrative. There are, of course, nuggets gently borrowed from other masterpieces of the genre, but these are in no way derivative; more of a respectful homage to earlier masters.

There is nothing more to add. More Alistair Reynolds - Now!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 22 June 2009
Up to Reynolds' usual high standards. As far as I'm concerned Science Fiction is mainly about ideas and you may rest assured that there's no pseudo science techno babble from the master of hard Science Fiction. Lots of high tech concepts and deeper characters than in the Revelation Space novels. Don't want to give away the plot but well worth reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
House of Suns may not be the greatest sci-fi book I've ever read, but it certainly wouldn't look stupid on a short-list of contenders. It's not so much the plot of the book that drives it forward, although there is a reasonably interesting conspiracy angled 'whodunnit' at the core of it. What makes it very special though are the deep concepts that the (mostly) hard sci-fi of the setting explores.

It's a beautifully written, deeply philosophical examination of scale, more than anything else - how a galaxy as big as ours might be sampled within the constraints implied by our current understanding of the inherent laws of the universe. There's no faster than light travel, although there is advanced technology that extrapolates from our own in credible ways. The protagonists of the book sample all the galaxy has to offer over lifespans of millions of years, As travel may take hundreds or thousands of years however they can only taste the occasional span of decades in between centuries of stasis or cryogenic suspension. The malleability of time and the staleness of experience are core themes in the book, and executed in both a compelling and hauntingly melancholic way. It's a book full of ideas.

Carl Sagan once said 'The universe is not required to be in harmony with human ambition'. House of Suns offers a hopeful take on a future which still offers much of wonder whilst still honouring the essential limitations implied by Sagan's insight.

I couldn't recommend it highly enough.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 19 July 2013
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I like Alastair's work anyway, and of the half-dozen or so of is that I've read, this is easily my favourite.

Part of the challenge of reviewing (or even talking about) Alastair's work lies in the fact that if you talk about it, you run the risk of rather spoiling the book. For me, the most enjoyable thing about the way that Alastair writes is how although it's abundantly clear he knows his universe like the back of his hand, the reader has the enjoyment of discovering the vision in his head through constant expansion of the story, and a very skilled drip feeding of clues.

And so how can I tell you about the journey of two shatterlings, who are in love and who are not really allowed to be because of the rules of their society, without ruining that enjoyment for you?

Obviously I can't tell you about the intended purpose of the House of Suns!

This book has some very high sci-fi technology, but are done in a very gentle, almost "arcane" way. For example, one of the lead characters is a machine intelligence but he's not presented as an android bashed out on an assembly line. He's presented as a much more "organic" being -- and there's a lot of enjoyment to be had from the way machine intelligences are presented in this book. There is also another form of post-human intelligence which is particularly special and enjoyable.

The relationship between the two lead "shatterlings" is also well done. Certainly when one of them was imperiled towards the end of the book, I was anxious that the situation resolved itself!

For me, I like my sci-fi to have superluminal travel. This book, like a lot of Alastair's work, looks to see how a society across interstellar distances can work whilst constrained by the speed of light. The general story is about a society/culture that tried to find a way of being and seeking some form of enlightened human experience within that constraint. At the end of the book, Alastair teases a way in which superluminal travel might work. But you have to give up a lot to get it.

This book is thoroughly enjoyable, and I certainly got to the end wishing there were other books in this universe that I could move onto next.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
It's quite rare that I find a science fiction book these days with a storyline the likes of which I simply have not seen before. This was one of those rare occasions.

Abigail Gentian, the daughter of a wealthy but insane mother creates a thousand clones of herself, some male, some female, each an individual, but sharing a collective memory and thus creates the Gentian Line of Shatterlings.

These genetically modified and all but immortal beings spend their infinitely long lives exploring the galaxy.

Every once in a while, the members of the Line meet up in an Arabian Nights style gathering to swap stories and update their collective memories of their adventures.

All is not quite as it seems though, as the Gentian Line hides a dark secret, so secret in fact that they have wiped it from their memory.

The story concentrates on two members of the line, Purslane and Campion, who against taboo are also lovers.

The secondary almost pure fantasy story concentrates on the early life of Abigail Gentian and her involvement in a highly realistic virtual reality style game that almost takes over her life.

How these two stories link together is both obvious and deeply obscure but is also key to the way the story unfolds.

The main story also features one of the best sentient robots I have seen since I read Asimov's Robots of Dawn!

This is the sixth Alastair Reynold's novel I have read and so far at least is by far my favourite.

It demands more from the reader than his other stories, but is definitely worth the extra effort!

This book is absolutely crying out for a sequel!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 9 February 2010
I have just finished reading House of Suns, which is the first - and certainly not the last - of this author's books that I have read. It is quite a long book (consistent with the span of its vision, perhaps) and does indeed start quite slowly - I think it was around page 150 when I started to see a plot emerging! Nevertheless, the pace gradually accelerates, and a truly fascinating work emerges by the end.
I've read a fair amount of sci-fi and there are certainly echoes and ideas that are similar to some other writers. Banks has been mentioned, although Reynolds is less quirky (without wishing to denigrate either side of the quirkiness gap). I certainly see similarities to Arthur C. Clark and Charles Sheffield (one of my favourite sci-fi authors).
I loved the breadth of imagination and the galaxyy- and universe-wide scope of the book. The hints of space war, while focusing on the personal events, together with the reader's gradually unfolding understanding of the environment and story gel together very well, and the ending is generally superb.
I do still have a couple of issues with the book - not serious ones, but where I feel the whole book could have been improved. Firstly, the three-way first person narrative is quite confusing. This is ok once you unravel it, but there is not enough difference in the perspectives and writing style of Campion and Purslane to make this a feature rather than an annoyance. It does grant the author a two-camera way of telling the story, but third person narrative allows multiple cameras and is less confusing.
Secondly, the background narrative of Abigail's story was interesting, but I felt that it needed to be woven into the main story more at the end. Without wishing to write a spoiler, there is a revelation late in the book about the composition of the Gentian shatterlings (which contrasts with that of the Marcellins) which I really wanted to see resolved, but wasn't. OK, this is Reynolds' story and his choice how to tell it, but it felt like a major lacuna.
In the end, though, a thoroughly fascinating and enjoyable book, and I look forward to reading more of his works.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 21 January 2010
Alastair Reynolds has, for me personally, created the most enjoyably far flung hedonistic technological future universe series of stories that I have read. The ever-present contrast between incredible/lethal technology and human spirit/emotions, coupled with the very palpable tension between humanoid races and sinister agents (of familiar humanoid corruptability) makes the "Revelation Space" story threads a fascinating read for any sci-fi fan. Reynolds has created a succession of extremely good books - punctuated here and there by a couple which are frankly too long, complex, and (gasp) boring.

But I have to say - amongst the gems of Reynolds crop of interwoven settings, characters and situations, House Of Suns is the story that shines brightest. It is, in it's own guise, a simple love story, surrounded by carnage and adventure and a pretty strong message about prejudice and the ability to see others for who they are, and not what they are (The Machine races). Deep? Not really - a good adventure but the morals are there for sure.

(Some spoiler) The plot builds at a satisfying pace and pretty the internal strife amongst those in House Gentian just gives an edgy chaos to the already shaky situation that the survivors find themselves in. I loved the sectioning - rather hilarious to find all of the thin sheets of human still able to communicate openly - and the slightly unsettling appearance and actions of Hesperus to begin with add a sense of distrust and suspicion. Ultimately the true nature of the old Machine races comes to the fore and our unlikely golden hero saves the day - and our lead characters.

I literally had misty eyes at the end of this book - and whilst it maybe doesn't have *quite* the same interplanetary warfare and destruction that some other books have - the action is very well used in terms of being absolutely centred on individuals and thus the tension is top notch in bits (Purslane and Hesperus hiding in Silver Wings' ship bay from Cadence and Cascade).

1000 years sleeps and wormholes later - the ending of the story - I don't know - some ardent sci fi fans may have though it to be a little contrived, maybe a little sentimental. But I absoutely loved it - perhaps just because it was a little unexpected (not Campion and Purslane's imminent reunion - but Hesperus' sacrifice - and the emotional response that took from me!).

All in all - a tremendous sci fi adventure - and my favourite Alastair Reynolds book to date.
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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on 16 February 2009
I have just finished House of Suns and I think that it may be one of the finest pieces of literature I have ever read.

It is quite simply a beautiful novel. It's sci-fi context is irrelevant to its beauty and I almost wish that he had written the novel about contemporary shatterlings travelling the world and gaining experiences. Maybe if the setting had been New York and not Neume then this book would be sitting in the sci-fi best sellers and the generic fiction top ten lists.

This book is a massive shift from the revelation space books. Don't get me wrong, I have read them all, but House of Suns is the sum of all of Mr Reynolds previous writing. It is funny, witty and breathtaking but and this is the killer, it is extraordinarly well written.

As I read it the most obvious comparable author was Haruki Murakami. The way Mr Reynolds takes modern themes such as loss and alienation and mixes them with humour and wonder is sublime.

This is not just good sci-fi this is wonderful story telling.

How do you nominate a book for the Man Booker?
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