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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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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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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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on 22 July 2008
Purslane and Campion are two Gentian shatterlings from the House of Flowers, two of a thousand clones of Abigail Gentian who left the solar system around the year 3000 to travel and explore the galaxy. All shatterlings meet up for their thousand nights reunion during which they share memories of what they have experienced.

Six million years have passed since the first ships left the solar system and due to the technology available the shatterlings are effectively immortal. They can pass the hundreds of years travelling between star systems in stasis and experience anything the galaxy has to offer.

On their belated way to the next reunion, Campion and Purslane receive a message warning them not to enter the chosen system and to flee to a designated safe system. The Gentian line were ambushed, almost their entire number wiped out and only a few dozen managing to escape and make their way to Neume where they await any stragglers.

Why does someone want the Gentian Shatterlings dead? Is there a traitor in their midst that helped this atrocity? And what exactly is the House of Suns?

This is the story we follow in House of Suns. Travelling with Campion and Purslane while they visit some systems on their way to the reunion, the aftermath of the attack and the events that follow. The first thing that you need to get used to is the timeframe of the novel. As all travel is done at sub-light speeds, with ftl not possible, the events of travelling between systems is done in tens and hundreds of years of subjective time. Once you get the hang of this it's easy enough to focus on the story without thinking of anything outside of it, unless it's mentioned within the narrative.

The story flows along quite well and is well written, probably one of Reynolds' best to date. Parts of the story feel like self contained short stories, particularly the early sections, although everything in the book has a reason for being there. I was impressed with the scope of the story and the timeframes involved, although I didn't enjoy the novel as much as I was hoping for. I love Reynolds' short stories and have enjoyed a couple of his novels more than this one and really hoped it would deliver more than it did.

I can't really fault the novel, it's just my tastes that meant I enjoyed it less than I hoped. There was no real feeling of having to read on, no urgency at all. Perhaps that is the result of having the narrative and background over hundreds, thousands and millions of years. A slow burner more than a page turner.
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on 29 April 2008
Just want to write a short review for those who have become fans of Reynold's sublime Space Operas----This is a new direction from most of his novels. Judging by the other reviews this change in tack (it's not realy THAT spectacular a change) is not to the taste of some-but very much to the tase of others. I add my voice to those who think "House of Suns" it is one of his best. The plotting is magnificently inventive (no change there!)Personally I found it almost impossible to put down and I like that in a book!The protagonists are fascinating and the writing at times surpasses that of his earlier work. If you want to read the cream of contemporary Sci-Fi--this is for you.
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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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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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on 6 August 2010
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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on 10 June 2008
I'd sneaked a look at some reviews as I was reading this, but being mindful of spoilers. I did find it a little slow to begin with but looking back it didn't spoil the book even slightly.

I finished reading it today and hand-on-heart this is one of the best books I've ever read, if not THE best! The story is immense, in more than one sense of the word. Set over massive distances and time, I loved getting my head around the scale of the book.

After half way through I had the feeling it was building into a crescendo and I wasn't disappointed. I actually laughed out loud at the very last pages not because they were funny but because it was a brilliant ending to the book.

If you're a fan of Reynolds or sci-fi in general - or even if you love a good story - you HAVE to buy this, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Easily Alastair's best work yet, highly imaginive and completely plausible if you let your mind wander.
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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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