Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Alastair Reynolds - House of Suns

Alastair Reynolds continues to go from strength to strength, though quite how he churns out such large volumes, quite so regularly is a mystery to me. This latest novel, is as galactic spanning as his others, though this one feels tighter and more compact than some.

In this story, Reynolds grapples with two aspects of his vision of the future universe. The first is the immense time required by civilisations that would seek to create interplanetary societies. Probably because of his scientific background, Reynolds tends to avoid things like faster than light travel. In this case, light speed is a limiting factor, but Reynolds has introduced the ability to slow down - characters can reduce their personal perception of time to travel great distances. This coupled with an ability to live longer gives us humans who can live for immense periods of time.

The second aspect to this book, is the idea that human civilisations, however successful, eventually fail - through internal conflict or external threat. The only exceptions to this are the "Lines". Groups of humans who gather for self serving interests and attempt to remain above such restricting things like civilisations. The "Lines" find that the most precious commodity they can have is information - one the galaxy, on its inhabitants and its history.

We meet the Gentian Line's two most cavalier and bohemian characters. Despite having existed for almost Six million years, the Gentian Line's members have managed to avoid falling in love with each other. Campion and Purslane haven't and this makes them late for the irregular Line meet-up. Arrival and the rendezvous finds most of the comrades dead and a struggle to find out what has happened marks the rest of the book. Needless to say Reynolds can't break from his galaxy spanning background and we are taking on the longest (in terms of time and space) car chase across the universe you can imagine.

If this all sounds a bit bonkers to you, then don't worry. Science Fiction usually does contain insanity, but House of Suns and Alastair Reynolds do bonkers particularly well and this reader was kept guessing right till the end. Well worth the very late night it took to finish!

Related Reviews

Reynolds - Galactic North
Reynolds - Pushing Ice
Reynolds - Redemption Ark
Reynolds - Century Rain


Max Cairnduff said...

I think Reynolds is one of the most talented SF writers around today. This does sound bonkers, but if I trust anyone to do bonkers and do it well, it's him.

Last of his I read was Century Rain, which I adored. I read your review and quite agree with your take. Probably helped I'm a big Django Reinhardt fan though.

Resolute Reader said...

Don't get me wrong Max, this is an excellent novel. Well worth it. Bonkers is meant in a nice way!

Resolute Reader said...

While struggling to work in the snow today, it did occur to me that I had missed the most obvious analogy about this novel - that the rise and (almost inevitable) fall of galactic civilisations could be seen as a comment on the rise and fall of various Earth-bound civilisations. The Mayans, the Vikings, the Easter Islanders etc etc etc succumbing to various environmental, internal or external problems (or combination thereoff) causing their downfall.

Max Cairnduff said...

Interesting last comment there, it makes me keener to read it. I was watching a documentary the other day about the Nubian civilisation falling for similar reasons.

I took bonkers in a good way, don't worry :-)