Tuesday, 25 September 2012
'Blue Remembered Earth' - Alastair Reynolds
In Blue Remembered Earth global warming has caused some dramatic changes, and the world we know today is no more. From the ruins of the old empires, new super powers arose. From Africa, a woman born at the end of the conflict, carved her name into the history books through sheer determination and ruthlessness. Now, she has passed away and left her empire to her squabbling relatives, but she also left them a mystery. Not everyone is happy about this, and the family is divided into those who wants to bury it, and those who wish to see what final message their venerable matriarch left them.
At first I was a worried Alastair Reynolds would tone down all the awesome technology I grew to love in Revelation Space, and while Blue Remembered Earth is low tech in comparison, it's still sufficiently techie to scratch that itch. The colonisation of space has started, and AIs exist, but have been outlawed.
It turns out space is not the final frontier, the oceans on earth are ripe for exploration as well, and a faction has made them their home. In Revelation Space humans had since long abandoned the need to look human, and the first stumbling steps have been made in Blue Remembered Earth. They are however of a more practical nature, mostly related to surviving in different environments, specifically underwater.
Unlike Alastair Reynolds' previous novels the protagonists in Blue Remembered Earth are pretty ordinary people, lacking military background and completely without any, out of the ordinary, enhancing implants. You see, on Earth, crime is something of the past. All humans are implanted with a thought monitoring device which detects thoughts of violence, and when that happens the individual is disabled, and will if necessary receive therapy. The Mechanism overseeing this is the ultimate big brother. But, back to our protagonists, Geoffrey and Sunday, were born into one of the richest families, but choose to pursuit their own interest instead of the family business. Geoffrey is researching elephant cognition, with the ultimate goal of doing a Vulcan mind meld with the matriarch of the herd. His sister, Sunday, is a half decent artists, who ekes out a living on the moon. The moon is outside of the reach of the Mechanism, and she is part of a subculture who wants the freedom, to do wrong. It's not a rebellion, see them more as hippies.
Together, they have to unravel the mystery their grandmother left behind her. The trail of breadcrumbs they follow is a historic one, the same path travelled by their grandmother when she lay the foundation for their family's riches. It's an absolute delight to read, as it manages to be both interesting, almost like a documentary, but also full of excitement and wonder. This is after all Alastair Reynolds, and we all know what he is capable of. It's all there, the suspense, the fantastic world building, and characters who are so easy to sympathise with you can feel the emotions behind their dialogue. Even the elephants are well rounded characters! Any worries I had about the change of scenery were swiftly abandoned, Alastair Reynolds' has without a shadow of a doubt pulled off his reboot. Although his new universe has a lot less tech in it, there is still more than enough to grab your attention, and a writer with his skill does not require a technological plague or super powered suits to create suspense. I'm once again blown away by the master of British SF, and I can't wait for the next part.
Blue Remembered Earth weighs in at 512 pages, and is published by Gollancz.