on 16 July 2009
This was my first Alistair Reynolds book, but definitely not my last. I was gripped from the start by its 'film noir' style exploration of 1959 alternate history Paris. Reynold's work is easy to read without being in anyway linguistically dumbed down. The first two-thirds of the book in particular were very good and the characters believable. Without wanting to give too much away and spoil the plot, I was pleased by the inventiveness of the book e.g. the Anomalous Large Sphere (ALS) idea and the swarms of Slasher nano-bots. I do have a few issues with this detective/space opera however. As a minor point I found some of the names a little twee. For example, the main groups of protagonists are called Threshers and Slashers, and you will come across beings known as war-babies ( sweet Lord!) Furthermore, the space chase sequences towards the end of the book ( although relatively short ) lack the excitement and pace of earlier chapters and the bag guy ( won't reveal his name ) becomes nothing more than an anonymous sensor blip. The ending nagged at me a bit too - it left a few too many plotlines hanging e.g. what happens to Custine and how does the ALS proceed through time. Also, I thought Floyd ( the main character ) behaves in the final sentence a bit uncharacteristically callous - maybe I just prefer a happy ending to a morally ambiguous one, maybe Reynolds actually got the ending spot on and I'm a bit too immature to accept it!
I was tempted to give the book a 3 ( 3.5 not possible unfortunately ), but I'm going to throw it a 4 because it's introduced me to a new author who I'm sure will not disappoint in future.
The Paris detective stuff is really not bad: believable characterisation, trademark snappy dialogue and organic plot development. Genuinely page-turning stuff.
As other reviews have noted, at the half-way point it's all change. We get into an extended hi-tech chase sequence and the plot development stalls. The editor should have been harsher here. More serious is the collapse of plot credibility. Why would the "extremist slashers" want to unleash their genocidal plan on E2? Both revenge and the quest for real-estate are equally implausible as motivations. And the ending is scrappy.
A shame really - this had potential for audience crossover, but SF folk will like it, even those who hang out at /.
on 20 January 2005
Initially, I was a little disappointed, when I read that Century Rain wasn't in the same reality and timeperiod as his previous works of space opéra, which I really enjoyed. Once I started settling into Century Rain, however, that disappointment completely disappeared.
The counterfactual Paris is gripping and credible (and beautifully film-noir), the human future is intriguing and similarly gripping. Reynolds seems to have taken a conscious decision to scatter throughout the book various rather cringeworthy-but-still-funny puns but, as the story progresses, the pace increases.
The ending was, as some other reviewers have commented, a little disappointing, given the rest of the book, but not greatly so and didn't detract from my enjoyment of the book. This is one of the few books I have found myself still reading at 2am when I have work only a few hours later; I would (and have done) recommend it very highly.
on 5 January 2005
I have read all the books of Alistair Reynolds and unfortunately, Century Rain does not rate highly amongst them.
The first half of the book develops nicely, with characters such as Custine, Caliskan and Niagara just waiting to be developed further. The second half of the book seems to forget about 1950s Paris and only loosely answers the issues left behind there - what happens to Custine and the war babies? These central issues are merely touched upon.
It is fair to say that I felt very disappointed at the end of the book - I was waiting for the twist to come, but alas, it simply did not happen.
Saying all this, I'll still buy Alistair Reynolds's next book - the Inhibitors saga completely captivated me and I know that he can do much better than Century Rain!
on 25 April 2013
With this book, I discovered another interesting British science fiction author, Alastair Reynolds. And what a find! He, like Hamilton, embodies my perfect author of such books as his novels fall under the space opera but rich of almost plausible technology, talk about the future of humanity, are pretty long and complex, but also really imaginative. Oh yes, because Reynolds has really a fantasy out of the ordinary. Not everyone can conceive of a story like that of "Century Rain".
I'll try to define the main points of the plot without spoiling it.
"Century Rain" is set in a future where Earth has been destroyed by nanotechnology. On scary nanotechnology I had recently read "Prey" by Crichton, however, the main theme here is something else. I do not like at all post-apocalyptic stories, but the so-called nanocaust spoken of in this book is just a detail of the plot and defines the environment in which the story moves.
Human survivors live in space stations orbiting the planet. Among them is the main female character, Verity Auger, an archaeologist expert in Paris, which is now just a ghost town. Auger is involved in a very special mission. On Phobos (one of the satellites of Mars) a wormhole was discovered that connects two distant parts of the galaxy. At the other end they found a huge sphere, inside which is a "functioning" replica of Earth, as it was in 1959. An alien species (undefined) has created many replicas of our planet, including this one that you can access. But the timeline in which these humans live in ignorance is a bit different from that of the true twentieth century.
These are the premises. The story is located somewhere between space opera, hard sci-fi, thriller, espionage and time travel, although you do not really travel in time. The way in which it is built is really intriguing, with well-defined characters. The book is very long, because so many things happen, which are difficult to predict, and this makes it very entertaining.
Yet even in this case, I stopped at four stars. The reason is simple: in the end the author, in my opinion, did not play his cards right. Being British, I would have expected something outside the box and instead Reynolds seems to have lost himself in the thick of it. Apart from the fact that the love story between the protagonists develops too abruptly and is not at all credible, perhaps because of that a bit too cold, but above all unnatural, look given to the female protagonist by the author (as it often happens when a male author moves a female protagonist), and then that story ends just as suddenly. Even if its end could be explained by a too fast start, two inconsistencies put together, however, do not generate a realistic event, but instead make things worse. For if you forgive the first one, you cannot do the same for the second one.
But the worst is right at the end. In this regard, suffice it to say that the characters, after all they've been through, find themselves exactly to the starting point. She seems to have learned nothing. He grew up, instead, but in fact he finds himself again in the condition in which he "lived" at the beginning of the story. Despite the beautiful prose and the poetic image of the last scene, I was disappointed. An author of this kind, capable of conceiving a story like that, should be more daring.
As a justification for the author I must, however, say that the ending is left quite open, allowing readers to imagine how it could continue, perhaps with a better ending.
Despite all this, then, I highly recommend reading this book to science fiction lovers who at the same time do not disdain some vintage vibe.
Rita Carla Francesca Monticelli, author of Red Desert - Point of No Return
on 11 October 2011
Reynolds' Revelation Space universe was an excellent foray into a deep, broad and rich universe with intricate detail, wondrous technology yet with unrealistic dialogue. How does this compare to Century Rain, which does not take place in the Revelation Space universe? It actually manages succeeds where Revelation failed yet failed where Revelation triumphed.
The entire novel feels like it has the loose structure of a Golden Age SF novel and many points of the plot reflect this quaintness. If the novel were to be condensed to only 200 pages rather than 600, the special Golden Age effect would have been complete, but we all know that modern British SF can't limit itself to anything less than 500 pages (bless them for it, too). The predictive nature of the novel, too, reflects the poor structure of Century Rain. I was able to predict (with lucky guesses or with my vast intelligence, who knows) about 80% of the unfolding of the plot. Even then, the one or two big swings were mildly surprising. I was never "wowed" by any plot twist or happening.
If Revelation failed in the dialogue category, Century Rain definitely revels in the art of sly humor and deceptive circular logic. His characters can spin words which will leave your own head spinning with impression. It's all believable and without the over drama in which Revelation tended to revel in. It's kept neat and clean when it needs to be but it can also be long and descriptive at the proper plot points.
Historical facts and insights are a key value of Century. The living memory of a non-existent 50s Paris is sharp and livid. It's a tried and true alternate universe where WW2 never happened and Reynolds does a surprising decent take on a world where science has taken the back burner to modern jazz. It's a captivating scene for an alternate universe plot and really resonates with the Verity, the traveler/scientist. Her observances of alternate 50's Paris to our real 50's Paris are our lens into the entire plot which Verity and Floyd find themselves tangled in.
This should be an excellent novel for some people or a dull one for others. For me it struck right in the middle between mediocrity, finesse and reminiscence. No reason to stop reading the rest of Reynolds' bibliography however!
on 24 January 2006
I am not a real Sci-fi fan or reader, so I read this on a recommendation. I really enjoyed it as just a thriller and found this to definitely be a 'just one more chapter...' kind of book - which is no bad thing. The characters are pretty well rounded, feel very real and, on the whole, do what real people would do in the same situation. The plot bustles you from one reality to another in an agreeable way and I found I spent most of the first half of the novel thinking: 'What the hell is going on?'
The Sci-Fi side of it I found very believable - just about unobtainable technology that is essentially theory at the moment - and well implemented and described.
My only criticism (hence the 4 stars) is that it does tail off at the end, the suspense feels labored and formal and there are patches within the book that are quite dull (space journeys for instance). But, overall, I will be reading more of Reynolds work because I really enjoyed this.
on 22 January 2005
Despite the fact that all the reviews posted at the time I write this gave the book two stars, I rather liked it. I think it was a very sucessful breakaway from the Revelation Space universe, and quite a courageous change of subject, given all of the rest of Mr. Reynolds work is soaring Space Opera.
Two Paraphrase the Critics, the two plot lines are interweaved very well and, much like Chasam City, the plot is not contingent on the high technology which appears in the RS universe. Indeed in places it seems to me to be a celebration of the analogue, and the primative. The plot is engaging, although not as wonderfully original as Reynolds' earlier work, but this is probably because Iv'e read too much of it.
What it does have in common with the RS set is Reynolds' prose, it remains clear and involving, and let's face it we read books books because of the quality of their prose.
This is a good book, but those who have indulged in the RS (series? saga?) it's probably not maudlin enough. I think it's unashamedly upbeat, somewhat different from those that preceded it.
Read the book and Give it a chance - if you want space opera, this is not it. If you want Revelation, Redemption, or Absolution - you won't get it. What you do get is quite a genteel story.
And for once the artwork doesn't suck.
on 3 June 2005
A supremely imaginative storyline, as ever, from Alistair Reynolds! The future "history" of the human race (if u get me) is clever, and intriguing, and just plausible enough to make you think.. However, not Reynolds best. Being a huge fan of his previous books, eagerly anticipating each new release, i found myself a little disappointed with the story. Gone were the beautiful, tantalising imagery of alien cultures, the terrifying killing machines (well mostly) and most of the hard scientific vein that underpins them. The twisted psyche of a post-apocolypse human society is portrayed well, and the characters are endearing, if not as well developed as Clavain, Volyova or Ana in the previous books. Overall, an entertaining, fast moving book, but not as gritty as the previous offerings, and the romantic sub plot (which seemed a lil implausible to my mind) may put off some people. Recommended, though not for everybody. Would be a good introduction to the author i think :)
If you are familiar with other Alastair Reynolds books, in particular the “Revelation Space” series, then this book is something different. Set closer to now, around the future Earth, and on an Earth from the past. Part alternative history, part detective novel, part clever science fiction. In some ways the plot is pretty predictable, until about half way through when the two strands come together. But from there, the book really takes off, and you can’t put it down till the plot is played out. There a a few very strong characters, and some really nasty enemies.
So less thought provoking and galaxy spanning than Reynolds usual work, but still really good. I wonder where he will go next.