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3.9 out of 5 stars
On the Steel Breeze (Unabridged)
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
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.

SPOILER ZONE
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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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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 13 March 2015
Now this is more like it. After the slightly sluggish ‘Blue Remembered Earth’ Reynolds’ homage to Arthur C Clarke and his ilk beefs up its cosmic and domestic mysteries and starts to loosen up and have fun with his ambiguously utopian interplanetary future.

That future’s multicultural nature remains well-handled – we’re not bludgeoned with it but well-timed subtle reminders keep us aware that tomorrow didn’t quite turn out to belong to the Anglosphere in the way that his golden age influences assumed. Its inhabitants feel real and varied – particularly impressive is the way he handles what their wildly different experiences have done to the three identical protagonists. There’s some straight up good writing here – in a subdued mode that had me thinking of Kazuo Ishiguro, or the later work of Ian McEwan, as much as any genre author.

There are flaws. The first half is fun, but it’s an unashamed travelogue – our heroes go home the long way round, pausing awkwardly to look at this or that interesting element of off-Earth culture or tech, and while it’s all fun and inventive it occasionally feels a bit forced. Reynolds still can’t really do a natural ending either – one of his trademarked Big Magic Things that Sort it All Out At A Terrible Cost happens offstage towards the end, and while it’s not quite as egregious as the Revelation Space trilogy I did find myself letting out a little bit of a sigh.

These felt like quibbles though – this is meaty, interesting old school science fiction that respects the genre’s traditions while updating them for a modern audience. I can’t wait for volume three.
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on 6 January 2014
After the lacklustre Terminal World, and the good but not great Blue Remembered Earth, I was half suspecting Reynolds might have lost his edge. But then this novel came along.

The novel is a loose sequel to BRE, set several years later, and taking place over several decades. The new protagonist, Chiku, has divided herself into three separate clones. Chiku Red was sent out to find Eunice Akinya, who departed Earth after BRE. Chiku Green joined a decades-long interstellar voyage to explore and colonise a new planet, with signs of alien life. And Chiku Yellow was supposed to stay behind on Earth and more or less stay out of trouble. But by the start of the novel, Chiku Red has gone missing and Chiku Green's voyage has gone awry. Both of these soon have consequences for Chiku Yellow back on Earth, where it transpires that the all-seeing Mechanism, the surveillance system intended to keep humanity permanently safe from harm, is not as trustworthy as we may have thought.

The plot to this novel works a lot better than BRE's somewhat forced storyline, and there is a lot more Reynolds-style darkness to this one, with deep-space warfare, malignant artificial intelligences, unknowable aliens, and more. Some of the optimism from BRE is also gone- while it's still more optimistic than most of his other work, things aren't as perfect as they seemed in BRE. People still get sick and die, technology still fails, governments still put their own interests above that of society, and so forth. It all comes together to make a much more interesting story, before moving towards a very satisfying conclusion.

As is often the case, the characterisation is probably the main flaw. Most of the characters serve primarily to advance the plot, and it's only towards the end that some of them begin to really stand out as having personalities of their own.

All things considered, though, definitely the best novel Reynolds has given us in a while. I await the conclusion eagerly.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 October 2013
As men and women explore space and settle new worlds, increasingly knotted to technology, they put at risk everything that is, or has been, beautiful about the Earth and life on it - free thought, independent purpose, animals and nature, healthy breathable skies and even family ties. In On the Steel Breeze, the distant sequel to Blue Remembered Earth, these themes are explored even further and taken to new places as humanity confronts a time of great crisis. I'm delighted to report that elephants make a return in the new novel and they are given a much more important role in our future.

In On the Steel Breeze, we follow the life stories of three women, descendants of the remarkable and celebrated Eunice Akinya and her daughter Sunday, so well known to us from the previous novel. All is not that straightforward, though, because the ties that bind these women are unusual and profound. The journeys they lead are each very different and randomly allotted. While one stays on Earth and its neighbouring planets, apparently for safety, another journeys with a great caravan of holoships to settle a new planet, Crucible, after decades of travel. Her ship is called Zanzibar, continuing the series' African theme. The third is on a search and she has the most dangerous of all the three tasks.

Everyone is on the move. Millions and millions of people are leaving the solar system for other worlds on asteroids transformed into generation ships. Others on Earth are evolving into something else, whether because of living in the seas or in zero gravity. Commutes between continents and the Moon are made simple by the Mechanism which watches over all life, even entering human biology. Language and distance are no longer a barrier. The novel itself has a motion about it, caused by its structure which moves between the different stories set light years apart.

The structure works very successfully for several reasons, not least because it allows Alastair Reynolds to bring together and create in fantastic detail portraits of life on Earth and on these incredible asteroid vessels so far apart. There are no constraints to the vision and because of the great distances there's a freedom in moving between time periods. It is all extremely fluid and flexible but, above all, these worlds are so fascinating to behold. This is a novel of exploration.

We revisit places and characters from Blue Remembered Earth (Poseidons Children 1). For me, this meant a welcome return to the Merfolk of the United Acquatic Nations as well as sinister machine-controlled Mars. But added to these are the new worlds, especially Crucible and the holoships, and thrilling episodes on other planets and environments. On the Steel Breeze might be visionary but it's also a thoroughly exciting adventure, with edge-of-seat scenes scattered throughout the book. Parts of it are breathtaking, not just for the splendour of the backdrop.

There are lots of themes explored here, not least the transformation of humankind and the repercussions of this for life of every other kind, as well as families, relationships and tradition. There is the responsibility that humanity has for new worlds and aggravating that is the reality that there is other alien life out there which we have a very real need to try and understand. And then there's the Mechanism. Its control was a heavy shadow in Blue Remembered Earth. It's now become even more powerful and, what is far more dangerous, restless.

I'm a big fan of Alastair Reynolds' writing but I think he has achieved something very special with On the Steel Breeze. Its female characters are so strong and complex and they are supported and surrounded by a host of intriguing characters and relationships, many of whom have their own secrets and stories to tell. Emotions have their place in this novel, just as awe-inspiring wonders do. I enjoyed Blue Remembered Earth very much but On the Steel Breeze exceeds it. It would work well as a stand alone novel but I think you'd benefit from understanding a little more Eunice and Sunday, not to mention the African background and those astonishing elephants.
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on 1 October 2013
I found this to be a much more impressive book than the previous in the series. The story moves along smoothly, with enough interesting or unusual elements to keep me engaged.

As other reviews have mentioned, the pace is measured, though not as slow as the previous book. As with many of his books I find the pace flags towards the end, but as always the ideas keep the pages turniing.

Alistair Reynolds is a master of moving a book along in wildly different timeframes, with action often occurring across different decades or centuries. In this case there is a strong linking element with the story following the transfer of memories between different versions of the Akinya clone-sisters, it works very effectively. Often with an AR book it can take hundreds of pages before the different strands meet up, but here, despite the huge gaps in time it all feels very connected.

Despite the story flowing from two different perspectives it reads like a single continuous thread.

The book suffers a little - it would have worked just as well with a single holoship, which I would have found more believable, and the whole "slowdown" plot setup I didn't find to be credible.

The book ends with the likely set-up for the sequal, which I assume will further explore the relationships and dependancies between evolved organic intelligence, machine intelligence, and artifical organic intelligence, against a back-drop of a vast and powerful alien race. Can't wait.
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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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