Thursday, July 15, 2010

House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds

Alastair Reynolds' House of Suns tells the story of Campion and Purslane - two clones or "shatterlings" of the Gentian Line whose sole purpose is to explore the vast reaches of the human-colonized galaxy, experience as much possible and share those memories with their fellow shatterlings. An unexpected and horrific act of violence upends their world and while they attempt to solve the mystery of who was behind it, further betrayals lead to a desperate chase and fight for survival.

Reynolds certainly write very well, and specifically writes space operas very well. A human race spread across the galaxy and remnants of a vanished super-advanced race might well be age-old tropes of the genre but still feel fresh in his hands. Fans of his Revelation Space series will recognise his distinctly realistic approach to the physics of the setting including believable space battles, mind-boggling lifespans due to relativistic speeds and ingenious weaponry that only an astrophysicist could think up. The book has its fair share of intrigue as well as spaceship porn, and raises a lot of questions about identity and how important memories are to making us who we are. Add to that a carefully weaved plot that manages to both reward reader expectations and subvert them without it feeling like a cheap trick and you've got a pretty good read.

A not necessarily major criticism however is that, towards the end of the book, the protagonists' actions can seem meaningless and futile as they are trapped by events beyond their control and at the mercy of smarter, more capable and almost god-like beings. Their failure to achieve their goals can be a little depressing, and the ending is...odd, as if they've accidentally completed someone else's pilgrimage and you're not entirely sure how you or they are meant to feel about that. But nevertheless, it is still a book I would and will read again - not least to reread the flashbacks to Abigail Gentian's early life with the benefit of hindsight to see how it ties in with the main plotline.

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