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On the Steel Breeze (Poseidons Children Book 2) Kindle Edition
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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.
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.
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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