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VINE VOICEon 6 October 2013
On a Steel Breeze is a large scale, hard SF adventure story with two main weaknesses, the beginning and the end. It is a sequel to Blue Remembered Earth, taking place in the following centuries and concerning itself with the next generation of the Akinya family.

Chiku, daughter of Sunday and niece of Geoffrey has cloned herself twice and the three genetic sisters have shared memories. One sets out to chase the family matriarch Eunice who disappeared into deep space at the end of the previous book. One joins a convoy of giant starships, hollowed out of asteroids, making their way to a nearby star, where an alien artefact has been observed. The third stays on Earth, a baseline charged with staying safe.

However, the starships on their way to the planet Crucible are threatened by shadows at night, or more literally by a ghost in the machine which threatens not just the success of the mission, but the future of the entire human race.

On a Steel Breeze is a work which takes its place on an increasingly crowded playing field on which it is difficult to see new ideas being created. This is the arena of the next few centuries where humankind has broadly conquered the solar system, and is now looking towards the next step. It is an SF where Einstein and relativity are given due respect and voyages to the stars require decades. It is a style of future already populated by Kim Stanley Robinson, Stephen Baxter and David Brin.

Within this style of universe, the main theme explored in this book is the interaction between organic and machine intelligence, and whether they can co-exist. Reynolds keeps his powder on the answer to that dry, leaving at least three different scenarios, on Earth, on Mars and on Crucible to be explored in the final part of the trilogy.

Once the story is underway it is an entertaining read. The pace ebbs and flows nicely, with Reynolds at times kicking back and letting events unfold gradually, while at others racheting up the tension in set piece action sequences. It is also fun to see the elephants of Blue Remembered Earth making a reappearance.

And so to the problems. I'm sorry but I just didn't buy the set up of a mission being launched to the stars, including millions of people, reliant on discovering a new physics while underway to be able to slow down at its destination. At the end, the resolution of one of the issues is just far too clean and easy, almost as if Chiku is given a magic spell to put things right.

While one part of the ending is unsatisfying, overall the story is nicely set up for the final volume.

So in summary, I enjoyed this book, but it is a little lacking in the wow factor, it all feels a bit familiar.
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on 25 October 2013
It's a shame really as the core concepts are rock solid. However, Reynolds continues to run on three cylinders. Despite being a fan and despite being committed to reading all his output, I can't really recommend this. Half-baked...
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on 26 April 2015
The only trouble with having a fairly small clique of favourite authors is that when you’ve read and massively enjoyed their entire back-catalogue, it is a really long wait between new novels. This has definitely been the case with this next instalment of the Poseidon’s Children trilogy. I finished the first volume, Blue Remembered Earth, back in Feb.2013 and I’ve read a lot, drunk a lot, got older and generally had ample opportunity to forget what was going on.
Thankfully, though, I got back into the now slightly faded world of the Akinya dynasty pretty quickly thanks to carefully sown memory joggers. While, like the first novel, it was a little slow to get going, the pace was perfectly judged, with the right amount of time spent on character development and world building. Despite its seeming stately pace, there is a lot going on. The main character is the granddaughter of the dynasty’s founding matriarch who has effectively created a triplicate identity, two experiencing the epic voyage of the vast holo-ships to the far planet of Crucible and the mysterious Mandala object from different viewpoints while the third was lost searching for their grandmother’s assumed remains on the far reaches of the galaxy. The triple identity is a clever device first explored in Reynold’s astonishingly original ‘House of Suns’ (well worth a read if you haven’t) and it works very well in this setting.
While the main plot drive is the voyage to Crucible, there are major sub-plots vying for attention, perhaps most importantly the machinations of the artificial intelligence ‘Arachne’, the misleading data from Ocular and links with the slightly sinister ‘Mechanism’. The whole cleverly plotted, multi-threaded narrative can really be boiled down to the old question of ‘how will humanity continue to progress once they can be surpassed my machine intelligence?’ Not a new question, by any means, but Reynold’s is not a dystopian future neither is it a Banks’esque Culture; it is somewhere in-between, presenting the reader with a carefully considered world populated by an array of characters with plausible motivations. Very clever and, while on the subject, the title is a nice reference to Pink Floyd’s amazing ‘Shine on you Crazy Diamond’. Trés cool.
Despite its slightly slow start and somewhat deus ex machina ending, I thoroughly enjoyed this second volume. I am, however, a huge Reynold’s fan and have great regard for both his firm grasp of the craft of writing and his intrinsic understanding of the art of storytelling. Perhaps a victim of the dread mid-trilogy blues, I have to admit that I wasn’t quite as gripped as I was with Blue Remembered Earth (and the huge gap between paperback publication dates didn’t help) but I still thoroughly enjoyed this splendid offering from one of the few masters of penmanship in contemporary science-fiction.
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on 16 April 2014
I really struggled to put it down and was reading it at every opportunity. I was even reading it for the three minutes it took to microwave my lunch at work each day.

It’s great not to have to start my review saying that this book is excellent, but not as good as Revelation Space, because it is, although it’s not as broad in terms of the scope of the story.

Unlike Blue Remembered Earth, you’re straight into the action with On the Steel Breeze and there’s none of the slow character building. It sits so well on the foundations created by Blue Remembered Earth that I wish I’d gone back and read it again first. I also liked all the characters this time.

There’s a great sense of mystery right up to the end. Most science fiction stories based around a paranoid machine intelligence remind me of HAL. However, HAL was a well intentioned, mislead child. Arachne, at least the version of her integrated into the Earth mech is clearly evil.

Science fiction is usually a look at possible future societies and many of them are utopian futures where there is no more conflict or murder and all of them are wavering on the brink of falling back into chaos. It’s the same in the future painted by On the Steel Breeze. And of course the characters acting for the good of everyone push it over the brink.

Following an experiment that went catastrophically wrong and destroyed a holoship, all development of the engines needed to slow the holoships down and allow them to reach their goal was prohibited. I was frustrated with the authorities making this decisions all the way through the book. It just felt so short sighted, but this is often how governments are. I also missed why the holoships couldn’t turn themselves over and use the engines they’d used to reach their transit velocity to slow down.

The end only answers about 90% of the questions asked by the rest of the book and sets the scene perfectly for the third and final part of Poseidon's Children. In the meantime I’ll be readying Doctor Who: Harvest of Time, also by Alastair Reynolds.
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Now I do like Alastair Reynolds. He can be a bit hit and miss, but the chasm city series was good and I really enjoyed his short stories and the sci-fi noir one (Black Rain?). Then he wrote Blue Remembered Earth and it was a bit of a slog, but I could see some potential with the sentient elephants and the germs of space travel and all that, so I read the sequel. Hmm.

I accept that unlike Hamilton and his almost cartoonish characters blasting around space shooting each other, you get more thoughtful characters and more detailed science, but you do miss out on some of the fun. I struggled to warm to the Akinyas in BRE, although Sunday and Geoffrey grew on me. Reynolds pretty much ditches these this time and gives us Chiku, who’s meant to be a kind of watered down and triplicate version of Sunday I think and who, in true heroine mode, doesn’t really realise her potential until she’s encountered all manner of problems. The trouble was though, I didn’t really care.

The middle book of trilogies do often suffer from having to be the bridging book, but with BRE being a mite dull, this didn’t really have anywhere to go. The holoships and their subsequent breakdown in social order were interesting – yet barely touched. Chiku’s relationship with Pedro and her jaunt to Venus was seriously dull and the point at which I wondered whether to cut my losses. The watch keepers and Arachne just didn‘t have that air of menace I wanted and it was difficult to care really what happened. Yes, it’s nice to read science books with lots of female characters, but if you’re going to do that, make them interesting; make them real!

I just wish editors would tell their writers that you don’t have to write 500 pages at a time – especially 500 pages where very little actually happens most of the time.

The final book needs to be stunning to make up for all the hours I've lost.
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VINE VOICEon 19 November 2013
I enjoyed this story but think that 4 stars is about right. The story is a continuation of the Blue Remembered Earth book but far enough in the future for the links to not absolutely need to read the book in isolation. Although I think some of the significance for example of the enhanced elephants will be lost without the background.
It seems like a 'ark ship' type story and has very familiar elements such as the society becoming more autocratic as time moves on. I did seriously struggle with the idea that you could set off on a trip to the stars, not be sure how you would slow down AND prevent research into how to do that at the same time
The most interesting part of the interplay between the multiple copies of a human and the machine intelligence that although spawned from a more malevolent version on Earth seemed not to have the same drivers as Arachne - would have been good to understand why she might have seen the humans as a threat
The Watchkeepers reminded me a bit of the Inhibitors from earlier books initially and I was wondering which way they would jump when the bombardment of the target planet started but they seemed very interested in the machine intelligence at the end but had really ignored her for most of the time
And the collapse of the Mechanism and the Aug - well there is a whole other story there as well I think
So quite a few ends not tied up - guessing there will be a third one to do some of that ?
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on 7 April 2015
This is the second installment in the Poseidon's Children trilogy and I really enjoyed reading this. The adventure covers 3 separate plot lines involving clones of the same person (Chiku Akinya). Chiku Red went chasing Eunice, Chiku Green joined a mission to the star system Crucible, and Chiku Yellow stayed at home. The Chiku Red plot arc was a bit of a non event but the other two story-lines where great.

You have the classic space opera stuff that Reynolds is really good at writing. He created a really believable well thought out hard sci-fi universe. Initially you think there are clear cut good guys and bad guys but becomes more complex and interesting as the plot develops. Questions about humans living in a post AI world are cleverly thought out. Super ancient and all powerful aliens pop up of course but what's not to like about that?

My only slight gripe is with the plot device that is used to explain why the hollo-ships (hollowed out asteroids geddit?) can't slow down. It seems highly irrational that that people would decide to make that decision. But I guess Reynolds wanted to avoid copying the Sky Haussman (founder of Sky's Edge in Revelation Space) plot line again. Overall very good and I will definitely buy the next book when it comes out.

There is a weird use of language in the book whereby "his" and "her" are replaced by "vis" and "ver". Don't know if this is a typo in the kindle edition but it is a bit annoying.
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On The Steel Breeze, Alastair Reynolds, 483pp, 2013.

This novel is a sequel to Blue Remembered Earth (Poseidons Children 1), and takes up the story long after the end of it. This time Chiku Akinya is the Narrator, or rather, several of them, as she has cloned herself (short version) and three of her set off on different paths, one to pursue Eunice Akinya’s spaceship, one to accompany the fleet of colony ships sent off to Crucible, the world containing the Mandala, an object visible from twenty light years away from the solar system, while the third stayed at home. As with many of Alastair Reynolds’ novels, the speed of light is an absolute limit, and the narrative is spread over a long period of time, helped by the split points-of-view, as the three Chikus are able to send memory updates (short version) to each other, so are able to remain in communication with each other. However, it is not quite that simple, as they have stopped talking to each other a long time ago, as they all drifted further apart in space and time. There is a serious problem aboard the first wave of colony ships – some of which are carrying elephants!; which we experience from one point of view; there is a serious problem in the solar system as Arachne, the AI (short version) is starting to get a bit worried about events there involving Akinyas and other characters from the first volume; and the third Chiku appears to be dead after an incident when finally catching up with the Winter Queen…

However, very little is as it seems, for there are massive alien artefacts orbiting Crucible, which have been doctored out of the data reaching Earth by Arachne; the robots who were set ahead of the colony ships to build the infrastructure for the colonists have done something else instead; the colony ships themselves have problems with their engines and can’t slow down; there is also a stowaway on Chiku’s colony ship – Eunice the AI from the first volume; and Arachne the AI has infected every robotic system on Earth, and is prepared to kill anyone who knows of her existence. And the Chiku who went after the Winter Queen may not actually be missing… And there are Uplifted elephants!

Despite being spread over decades, this was a page-turner of a novel as far as I was concerned, and I’m not sure it is all over yet.

Remember that sealed box on Venus? That struck me as suspicious even before we were told about June Wing’s little enhancements… Is there more to come from here?
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on 2 February 2014
I really like Alistair Reynolds and was very wary of this book - second books in a trilogy are *hard* and rarely good. This was very good though - I enjoyed it a lot. There are very few carry-over characters from Blue Remembered Earth and I think that will probably help if you've not read the first book. The book has the typical features of a Reynolds story - unguessable, implacable AI, cold-sleep space travel, strange-but-not-unimaginable future tech - and that helps to get you oriented if you've read him before. I found it surprisingly easy to care about the characters and identify with some of them.


I agree with some other reviewers that the Macguffin of needing to invent a whole new branch of physics on the journey is a bit far-fetched given the necessary investment to construct and ride in an interstellar ship, but since the rest of the story is good, I'll forgive it.

I still don't understand the reference to one character as being 'ver' and 've' instead of 'her' and 'he' - author says it's there to make the character hard to picture and that stuck in my craw a little bit - while I agree that gender should be superfluous to the character of Travertine, there wasn't enough meat to the character to picture them fully without bring 'ver' gender into play. But Reynolds is hugely successful, so in this case I have to guess that I'm wrong and not him ('vim '?) :-)
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on 29 September 2013
I did not find this that gripping. I think the scene setting was not up to his usual standard. I never once felt that sense of wonder that many of Reynold's previous novels evoked. Characters were OK. I regret that I bought this on the strength of previous great works, and wish instead I had opted for the free first chapter because I would have saved my money.
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