on 3 October 2013
Along with other reviewers who like me are normally big fans of Alastair Reynolds, I found this so slow that eventuallly I could not be bothered to continue, the characters unappealing, the plot obscure. Some interesting ideas, but just not gripping.
Brother and sister Geoffrey and Sunday are members of the Akinya family which has its origins in an economically powerful Africa but which now runs a solar system wide industrial complex.
Both Geoffrey and Sunday have opted out of the family business, Geoffrey to become a naturalist studying elephants, Sunday an artist living and working in an alternative society on the moon.
They are brought back to the family by the death of their grandmother Eunice who did much to forge the Akinya empire. At the behest of his more business minded cousins, Hector and Lucas, Geoffrey sets out to follow a trail laid down his grandmother. It is a journey which, for him and Sunday, takes in the Moon, Mars, a submarine society on earth, a space station in lunar orbit, and eventually the outer reaches of the solar system.
Much of Reynolds' past work has been riddled with a sense of disease and decay, particularly with the melding plague in the Revelation Space novels. This book feels much more optimistic, it is about beginnings and broadening horizons. In tone it feels close to Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars novels, or recent 2312. Humankind has conquered the solar system and is now living in an enlightened liberal capitalist society. There are some pleasingly British quirks in this society, not the least of which is cricket being a major spectator sport on the moon.
Blue Remembered Earth is one of those medium term future SF novels in which the technology is still very recognisable, and the laws of physics, while very definitely played with here, are still very much allowed to govern the universe. A fine example of extrapolation from the contemporary world is in Reynolds' description of transport. Spaceports are recognisably today's airports and one excellent section describing a spacecraft setting out for Mars is basically a description of an ocean liner leaving port. The book also sits firmly within the history of SF, with, for example, a very strong nod in the direction of Philip K Dick in the prologue, and use throughout of Arthur C Clarke's space elevators.
While this is a more optimistic work than much of Reynolds writing, there are some very recognisable themes from his other works. Humanity becoming factionalised, here between the United Surface Nations, and the United Aquatic Nations, or between those happy to live in a controlled benevolent society, and those wanting more freedom, independence and danger. Also, in one memorable section on Mars, a vast mobile mechanised city is highly reminiscent of the author's previous work.
So, this is a book which presents a beautifully realised, highly credible future universe, and it is a book I thoroughly enjoyed. The one significant problem I had with it is that the plot is much thinner than the world(s) in which it is set. While everything comes together nicely at the end, I couldn't help thinking that Reynolds, like Iain M Banks in the Hydrogen Sonata, included some elements simply because they were entertaining ideas, rather than because of their contribution to the plot.
That said, this is a good, solid, very readable hard SF story, and as such definitely recommended.
on 11 August 2013
Another amazing Alastair Reynolds book. I love his stuff and have read pretty much all his other books, and this one doesn't disappoint. Although it took a little bit to get going, I got into it and then couldn't put it down. It is set on more of an earth-bound scale, instead of his usual millions-of-years scale, but hints at what is to come at the end of the book. Can't wait for the next one to come out!
on 31 March 2016
I love Alistair Reynolds books, I love Africa and elephants, but just couldn't get into this. The characters felt strained, neither a realistic Africa, nor a realistic future.
Others clearly enjoyed, but I sadly gave up half way through.
on 13 June 2013
The notion of a near (ish)-future near-utopia is very rare these days; most sci-fi is unwilling or unable (understandably, perhaps) to see a way beyond the darkness -environmental, social, political - of the current times, and it takes a certain courage to speculate about a time as close as 150 years away where humanity lives in, apparently, relative comfort & security. Having posited that relative comfort and security, a writer then faces the problem of producing a viable plot when there is little room for direct antagonisms. In this leisurely Sci-Fi thriller, Reynolds does a good job of providing both.
Ostensibly, it's a treasure hunt; a brother and sister, black sheep of immensely wealthy, family owned space company, follow a trail left by their immensely powerful grandmother, one which leads them to colonies on the Moon, on Mars, and back to Earth. What antagonism there is is supplied by a (slightly overdone) familial rivalry and a mildly fanatical trans-humanist cult; there are 2 deaths, barely more than accidents, and an almost complete absence of violence - the whole human space protected from criminality by neural implants & genetic testing that Reynolds is careful to avoid presenting as dystopian or overtly policed & could best be described as proto-Culture (in the Banks sense) social engineering.
There are moments where the grandmother's rather torturous breadcrumb route stretches plausibility. The Mars episode, without wanting to give away too much, is reliant on a heavily flagged plot device that is certainly ex machina, if not exactly a god. What she actually found, too, and why (and how) she managed to hide it again stretches credulity, although spoilers forbid saying much more than that. Nevertheless, there's enough to keep the plot moving and give Reynolds room to show us his new worlds.
It's this, the scenery, so to speak, that makes the book compelling, as much as the leisurely relatively conflict free piecing together of the puzzle itself. There's a certain amount of technological handwaving, and we only have an extremely privileged view of the world - the family itself is (we are told, repeatedly) massively rich - but what we do see is not totally implausible. There has been a century of re-adjustment to the realities of climate change, but out of it has grown a certain unity, and new ways of living. These ways of life and their supporting technologies seemed to me to be coherent and touched with a quiet optimism absent from most contemporary Sci-Fi. The broader themes - how humanity might adjust to global warming, how we might approach near-space colonisation, how genetic & neural profiling might alter society - are reflected in the details of this relatively cheerful future.
The final reveal itself, however, suggests that this new found maturity will be tested, and I look forward to seeing if Reynolds can keep the balance between the mildness of the setting and the stresses implied by the discoveries that close the book.
Being a great fan of Alastair Reynolds I was both excited by, and nervous of, his latest series, most of my trepidation being due to concerns that he may have sold-out and start churning out pot-boilers courtesy of a big book deal and a whopping advance. Thankfully, I was wrong. While the story may be a little slow to get going, Reynolds introduces his characters with care & attention to detail so that when the planet hopping treasure-hunt style adventure gets underway the reader is fully immersed in the characters and their near-future environment. What Reynolds really excels at is thinking of really cool stuff, integrating it into his imagined universe and then given them really cool names; the aug, the Mechanism, the Evolvarium (really liked that idea), artilects, the Ocular... the list of original and plausible ideas just goes on.
The plot centres around the events following the funeral of the matriarchal space pioneer of the powerful & rich Akinya dynasty and the series of clues to location on the moon, Phobos and Mars which lead in turn to a revelation on the edge of our solar system which could either presage a new dawn in the human space diaspora or, if misused, their potential destruction. Along the way there are intra family feuds, proof of extra galactic intelligent life, a typically Reynolds-esque extension of the panspermia hypothesis and much more all incorporated into a mature, carefully paced & magnificently written novel.
As you can probably tell, I really liked it. It was perhaps a little slow at the start with all of the elephant messing about but it was never dull; just lots of Reynolds' masterly wordcraft and imagination. A cracking start to an exhilarating new series from a master of the space opera genre.
Tanzania, 2161. The matriarch of the Akinya family, Eunice, a famous pioneer of space travel and exploration, has died at the age of 130. The family convenes for the funeral, but grandson Geoffrey would prefer to be carrying on his research into elephant cognition. When an anomaly is discovered amongst Eunice's possessions, Geoffrey is asked to investigate, the beginning of a journey that will take him from Earth to the Moon to Mars...and further still.
Alastair Reynolds's new novel is the first in a new sequence, Poseidon's Children, which will span 11,000 years of human history. As such, the three books in the sequence will presumably be stand-alones, divided by immense gulfs in history, but with added context given to the reader by reading all three in order. Reynolds and his publisher have backed away from the 'trilogy' moniker (and the 'Book One of Poseidon's Children' tagline present on some early drafts of the cover has been removed) to de-emphasise the idea this is a serialised story that people will have to wait years to be concluded.
Reynolds is noted for having a somewhat grim vision of the future in his previous books, so Blue Remembered Earth is notable for its more optimistic tone. The human race has become richer and more technologically advanced than ever before, with Africa now driving the world economy and formerly war-torn, poverty-stricken states are now prosperous and driven. The price of this new era of peace and development is the Surveilled World, a state of near-total coverage of the planet by AIs which intervene if any crimes are detected. As a result almost no crimes or murders have been committed in decades (although Reynolds, a noted fan of crime thrillers, can't help dropping one puzzling and apparently impossible murder in as a subplot). This near-total surveillance state is not so prevalent on other planets and moons, however, due to time-lag issues.
The book is essentially a treasure hunt, with Geoffrey and his sister Sunday following the trail of clues left behind by their grandmother which ultimately leads to the Big Reveal. The trail, and the resulting plot, are somewhat convoluted and, it has to be said, unconvincing. Nevertheless, the story is entertaining with a constant stream of inventive ideas: an area on Mars controlled by rogue machines; an AI simulacrum of Eunice who provides advice and becomes more and more like the real Eunice as they uncover more information; attempts to help improve the quality of life for zoo elephants by merging them holographically with a real herd in the African wilderness; and a system-wide telescope being used to scan for signs of life on other worlds. The characters, particularly Geoffrey and Sunday (our main POV characters) are well-developed as we learn their respective reasons for turning against the family's strict business-oriented hierarchy, but even their antagonistic siblings (who initially appear to be villainous) are fleshed-out satisfyingly by the end of the book.
As the most low-tech of Reynolds's books to date, Blue Remembered Earth is perhaps his most conservative in terms of ideas and scale and scope. This isn't a bad thing and he seems to enjoy working under greater technological constraints than previously, but occasionally he seems to chafe against the restrictions (the robots on Mars and the large-scale mining of the Oort Cloud both seem somewhat more advanced than the tech elsewhere). He also doesn't fully explore the freedom implications of having a state of total surveillance, other than in a cursory surface manner.
Still, Blue Remembered Earth (****) is highly readable, brimming with ideas and refreshingly optimistic. Recommended. The novel is available now in the UK and on 5 June 2012 in the USA.
on 5 March 2012
This is a very good book but a bit too long...I think it would have been an excellent 300-350 page novel I felt that some parts of the book (sometimes entire chapters) should not have been included: they just slowed the pace and didn't contributed to the main story.
But anyway...I've been a fan of Reynolds novels for quite a while so I enjoyed the book...and I'll be waiting for the next installment of the Akinya family.
And now, the NEW READERS BEWARE part:
If you have heard/read about Alastair Reynolds' deep space stories populated by ancient star-eating alien devices, gigantic cathedral-like starships haunted by cybernetic-modified crew, ancient alien races (some extinct thousands of years before the first multi-celular organism was born on earth's primaeval seas), hundred-year space travels to distant star systems...etc.
You should not pick this book.
Go for the Revelation Space cycle instead (Revelation Space, Redemption Ark, Absotution Gap)
on 22 July 2013
I'm a massive fan of Alastair Reynolds and this book didn't fail to enthral me. His vision of the human race in the future and its place within our galaxy always captures my imagination. The speed of light can’t be broken so a more (realistic?) approach to stellar travel has to be considered. Different kinds
of alien races don’t hang out in bars swapping tales of war and piracy. He doesn’t stretch the ‘fiction’ part of science fiction too much.
We future humans have progressed none the less. Implants allow us to function better and live longer. In this novel there is an all seeing ‘nanny’ that sits around us ensuring we don’t do anything of a criminal nature, protecting us. But it doesn’t reach everywhere and sections of society choose to dodge its influence. We still only live within the boundaries of our own solar system, colonising and mining the resources of our closest neighbours. Technology has enabled us to look further though and it seems that someone has seen something far away that will change the human experience for ever. Will we be ready for that discovery?
This is the story of Geoffrey, part of a big and powerful family. He just wants to be left alone to study his elephants but his cousins have other plans for him. They want him to find out what their recently departed grandmother was up to all those years on the Moon and Mars. They have a reputation to protect but they have no idea what it is she has discovered…
on 9 December 2012
This is a fascinating Science Fiction tale from Alastair Reynolds.
Set some one hundred and fifty years in the future, the African continent has become the economic and technological leader of the world. This is a time when war, crime and many of the ills we take for granted today have all but been eradicated as mankind has established colonies out in space. Geoffrey Akinya is the member of a wealthy African industrialist family who finds himself unwittingly caught up in a mystery left by his recently deceased grandmother - a famed scientist and astronaut of her day! Geoffrey and this sister must travel the Solar System in a hunt for clues to the mystery whilst at every turn facing danger, deceit and attempts by members of their own family to undermine them.
This is the first book that I've read by this author and "Blue Remembered Earth" contains some very imaginative ideas and an interesting perspective of the near future. This is not a tale of great space battles but more one of subtle intrigue where the pace of the story at times moved a little slowly but overall kept my interest.
This first part of the "Poseidon's Children" trilogy was a very enjoyable read and I look forward to the other books in the series.