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3.9 out of 5 stars
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3.9 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 6 October 2013
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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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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on 25 October 2013
It's a shame really as the core concepts are rock solid. However, Reynolds continues to run on three cylinders. Despite being a fan and despite being committed to reading all his output, I can't really recommend this. Half-baked...
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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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on 26 October 2013
Brilliant book about the not too distant future where technology has not given humans godlike powers yet. Limitation in human capabilities make this book more down to earth. It also opens the door for new angles to technologies which are more plausible and realistic, like planetary bombardment by high speed mass as opposed to lasers.

The book tends to dwell on events which are not key to the main theme, but these moments are important to reflect on how people feel and make decisions in the future. When reading a sf book I would like to feel how life will turn out in the future not only to get a logically sound detective / action story.

Another virtue of the book is that it gives answers to most of the questions not leaving many things in the open.

And finally we have extraterrestrials which are several steps ahead of humanity's technological level, as is expected by statistics.

Cannot wait for the 3rd part !
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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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Portgual, 2365. Chiku Akinya is one of three clones, and the only one to remain on Earth. One of her 'sisters' is on a dangerous space mission to the edge of the Solar system, trying to recover a deceased relative. Another is on a massive holoship, more than a dozen light-years from Earth, headed to investigate a giant alien artifact picked up by a powerful space telescope. But some strange events compel Chiku to venture to Venus and Mars, and what she discovers will have important ramifications for her sisters far out amongst the stars.

On the Steel Breeze is a semi-sequel to Blue Remembered Earth and the middle volume of the loose-knit Poseidon's Children trilogy. Though readable as an independent novel, a number of references in this novel will resonate more if you have read the previous book.

As before, the book unfolds from the point-of-view of the Akinya family, a dynasty that became rich due to the explosion in Africa's economy. Chiku is the daughter of Sunday, one of Blue Remembered Earth's protagonists, and the novel is told from her fractured POV as memories are shared between her three different bodies. The two main characters are Chiku Yellow, who remains in the Solar system, and Chiku Green, who is living on the holoship (a hollowed-out asteroid fitted with engines and life-support equipment, carrying 10 million people to the planet Crucible) Zanzibar.

The result is, effectively, two SF novellas that unfold simultaneously, with each 'sister' updating the other on what's going on through lengthy radio transmissions that allow them to update and integrate each other's memories, thus giving them a clearer picture than what each individually would be able to find out. There are echoes here of Reynolds's earlier House of Suns (which featured a woman splintered into different incarnations), as well as the Revelation Space books which featured storylines unfolding light-years apart with the speed of light limitation making it difficult for people to communicate with one another. The two stories feel rather different to one another, but ultimately integrate into a mostly satisfying whole.

Chiku Yellow's storyline takes in 24th Century Earth, attempts to explore the planet Venus (complicated by the planet's hellish surface conditions) and visits to Mars and Saturn. Some elements (and characters) from Blue Remembered Earth are revisited in these sequences. This section is enjoyable, but risks retreading the same ground from the earlier novel. This is mostly averted by some excellent descriptions and use of real science, especially in the disaster-movie storyline that unfolds on Venus.

The meat of the story, however, is in the holoship caravan making its way to Crucible at 13% of lightspeed. Here Reynolds lets his imagination have full reign, creating an interstellar society that is trying to survive the agonisingly slow journey without collapsing. There are evocative descriptions of how the holoships work and how they are organised, as well as intimations of their politics. However, a fuller exploration of the caravan is not possible due to a constrained page count and the need to flip back to the other narrative at key points. This helps keep the story on track and focused, but it does result in some lost depth to the Zanzibar storyline. Most notably, a climax to that storyline revolving around the complex politics of both the holoshop and the caravan as a whole lacks resonance due to those elements not being explored in greater detail earlier.

Reynolds admirably raises the tension and stakes as the story switches back and forth across the light-years, building up the narrative drive in a way that Blue Remembered Earth rather lacked. However, this tension is then dissipated by an undercooked finale: Chiku reaches Crucible, some fascinating events unfold there and the book rather abruptly ends. I'd hesitate to call it a cliffhanger, but there's a lot of unresolved events and elements left for the final book in the series to address. It also doesn't help that the main theme of the series (strongly hinted at in the first volume) seems to be the struggle between organic life and the machine life it creates. This is not a new theme for Reynolds (it was also explored in the Revelation Space series) and he comes at it from a different angle here, but those who have watched the new Battlestar Galactica TV series or played the Mass Effect video game trilogy may find themselves groaning at the re-use of a very familiar trope. How successful Reynolds is in putting a fresh spin on it remains to be seen, as it appears to be an idea which will be explored more in-depth in the third book in the series.

On the Steel Breeze (****) is a fine hard SF novel that explores some interesting and intelligent ideas. The book's two-part structure allows for a lot of story to be explored efficiently, but also results in some elements not being as fleshed-out as might be desired. In addition, the ending is abrupt and there is no guarantee that the next book will explain much of it (the third book, it is rumoured, will pick up thousands of years later). It's still a fascinating novel and for much of its length is a better book than Blue Remembered Earth, but it also definitely suffers a bit from 'middle volume syndrome'.
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on 29 September 2013
From the pointless use of the impersonal pronoun to the incomprehensible average nature of pretty much every character, this book fails for me. I find this terribly disappointing as I've been such a fan of AR, I have all his books and I've been looking forward to this.

I don't do content so no spoilers but this book just felt rambling & unfocused - the characters in particular were dull and
Iifeless; I probably felt that the most colourful characters were the elephants! (not really a spoiler this revelation).

Before I'd even passed 15% of the book I found myself skipping paragraphs; by 20% skipping pages. I was tempted to start skipping random chunks, sure in the knowledge that I would be ale to pick up the tedious predictability of the angst-ridden (yet simultaneously uninvolving) washed-out and colourless views of the central characters.

There was little to engage via the personalities, still less with a plot that, while understandably on a long timescale, failed to excite. The notional plot context of human/AI interaction has been done far better, many times; I would assert that if you wanted a good, taut & well-written version of this - go dust-off your copy of William Gibsons 'Neuromancer' - a 30 yr old novel infinitely better written and with a more modern 'feel'.

I finished the book with an unaccountable sense of relief - this one goes into archive in the certain knowledge it won't be re-read. I expect better from a quality author (and a 'quality' price tag!).
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on 9 November 2015
Steel Breeze is good, but not great. Solid story, with well-backed insights into future tech and society, but Reynolds does tend to get a bit hand-waving deux-ex-machina with his science as he progresses through series. I enjoyed Blue Remembered Earth more, but this is a worthy sequel and I'll look forward to reading the third.
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on 7 April 2016
On The Steel Breeze is the second in Reynold's Poseidon's Children trilogy and deals with the relationship between humans and artificial intelligence.

Taking up the story several years after Blue Remembered Earth the main (human) protagonist is Chiku Akinya, daughter of Sunday Akinya from the first book. She has cloned herself and the three Chikus pursue different fates but their stories inevitably interact with each other.even across light years of space.

One is lost in space, presumed dead. Another is on a colony ship heading to a planet that images have shown has a clearly alien structure on the surface. The third remains on Earth, presumably in safety.

As the colony ships near the destination planet they are riven by internal strife and politics just as Chiku finds that things are not as they seem. There are secrets both within the colony ship and with the planet itself, secrets that are bound to cause conflict when they are brought to light. On earth it is clear that some important information has been hidden and Chiku must risk her safe existence to uncover the truth, but at a high cost.

The book starts slowly, maybe a little too keen to establish who Chiku is and reinforce how the world she inhabits is different from ours. However once the story moves to the colony ships it moves along at a good pace with enough twists and surprises to keep the reader's interest. There is plenty of intrigue and it really is hard to tell where the story is going next.

We have the usual 'hard physics' at work as should be expected in a Reynolds book. Except for the hand wavium 'Chibesa physics' that powers the ships, the laws of physics are rigidly adhered to. Again we see how a battle across millions of miles of space could be achieved.

I found the ending to be satisfying (I have read reviews criticising it). It ties up the story of the earth based Chiku. The story for the colonists is clearly only beginning and the third book in the series is set up neatly in the epilogue, while at the same time providing closure on the fate of the colonists.

My only real criticism of the book (and it in no way detracted from it) was the cloning-and-memory-merging gimmick used for the Chiku clones. Although this neatly allowed the story to move between the colony ships and the solar system, I felt that this had been explored better (and with more justification) in Reynold's novel House Of Suns. Here it just seems to be a 'sci-fieqsue' way of allowing the main protagonists to communicate and empathise across the vast tracts of space and otherwise seemed superfluous given the complex set up.

Overall another excellent book from Reynolds, definitely up there with the best 'space opera' novels. I am looking forward to the third book immensely.
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