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Saturday, January 28, 2012

"Blue Remembered Earth" by Alastair Reynolds (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Alastair Reynolds Website
Order "Blue Remembered Earth" HERE
Read Three Chapters from Blue Remembered Earth HERE
Read FBC Review of "House of Suns" HERE
Read FBC Review of "Terminal World" HERE

INTRODUCTION: As my number one sf writer of the 00's, any novel or story by Alastair Reynolds is a must and based on the exciting blurb below, "Blue Remembered Earth" has been one of my highly anticipated novels of 2012. As I commented in this review of the recent Solaris SF anthology that featured a superb story by Mr. Reynolds, I really missed reading the usually "annual" novel from the author in 2011 as Terminal World has been published in early 2010 and Blue Remembered Earth showed me once again why...

"One hundred and fifty years from now, in a world where Africa is the dominant technological and economic power, and where crime, war, disease and poverty have been banished to history, Geoffrey Akinya wants only one thing: to be left in peace, so that he can continue his studies into the elephants of the Amboseli basin. But Geoffrey's family, the vast Akinya business empire, has other plans. After the death of Eunice, Geoffrey's grandmother, erstwhile space explorer and entrepreneur, something awkward has come to light on the Moon, and Geoffrey is tasked - well, blackmailed, really - to go up there and make sure the family's name stays suitably unblemished. But little does Geoffrey realise - or anyone else in the family, for that matter - what he's about to unravel. Eunice's ashes have already have been scattered in sight of Kilimanjaro. But the secrets she died with are about to come back out into the open, and they could change everything. Or shatter this near-utopia into shards .."

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "Blue Remembered Earth" is arguably the author's least "technical" novel insofar as its world's society and technology are extrapolated from today's cutting edge stuff without anything really "exotic" and Mr. Reynolds talks a little about this in the Acknowledgements page of the novel.

However I found the book an excellent showcase for the author's major strengths, sprinkled with what I consider to be his occasional weaknesses and proving again why he is still the number one writer of "hard" sf today.

The world building is top notch, Africa as a major power comes off naturally and pitch perfect, the Aquatics, the Moon colonies, the Martians, the Mech, the AI phobia of the society and the dispute between the bio-first and the tech-first powers/corporations read also naturally and the novel's universe is both "alive" and a place where I can easily imagine myself living. As speculation about a mid 2100's Earth and nearby solar system, "Blue Remembered Earth" is simply unrivaled in recent sf and if only for that and the novel is a top 25 of mine.

There are some underwater scenes that are just unbelievable even if a little too short, but those few pages are also almost worth the novel by themselves, not to speak of the Moon stuff and the Martian one; lots of humor and the Pyhthagorean adventure - read the book to find out about it - just cracked me up laughing. Just read this paragraph where Geoffrey Akinya visits the Earth Aquatic states:

"He had no sooner formulated that idea than they were, startlingly, outside – crossing between one part of Tiamaat and another, with only the tube’s glass between them and the crush of the surrounding water. They were crossing through a forest of night-lit towers, turreted and flanged and cupolaed, submarine skyscrapers pushing up from black depths, garlanded with myriad coloured lights. The buildings were cross-linked and buttressed by huge windowed arches, many stories high, and the whole city-district, as far as he could see, lay entwined in a bird’s-nest tangle of water-filled tubes. He could, in fact, make out one or two tiny moving forms, far above and far below – swimmers carrying their own illumination, so that they became glowing corpuscles in some godlike arterial system."

"Blue Remembered Earth" is also a compulsive read that you do not want to put down and here is one place where Alastair Reynolds of 2012 shows his maturity as a writer, comparing with the amazing but fractured in style Revelation Space of 2000. The novel follows the two rebellious siblings, Geoffrey and Sunday Akinya, one who starts as an Elephant scientist on Earth and the other as an artist in the Moon "free zone" - where the complete Mech surveillance is banned by law - and when the narrative splits into two threads, the transitions are smooth and each storyline is compelling on its own.

The weaknesses noted in earlier novels - most notably the lack of major differentiation between Geoffrey and Sunday despite their different genders, the use of important secondary characters like Sunday's boyfriend Jitendra and Geoffrey's ex Jumai as props rather than real "live persons" and the mostly cartoonish villains Lucas and Hector Akinya, our heroes' cousins - appear too, but a few powerful secondary characters like old family retainer Memphis, "opposition" leader Arethusa, the (sfnal) "spirit" of deceased matriarch Eunice and others I leave you to discover, mitigate this and show again the growth of the author in literary skills.

The other niggle I had about "Blue Remembered Earth" was its thriller/quest structure that developed after maybe a third of the novel and which gave a feeling of "too long in parts" with some action sequences that could have been shortened for a stronger impact, while the "content" part - eg more about the Mech and the Gearheads or the Moon free zone for example, more backstory, more path evolution of the world - could have been lengthened for a higher ratio of content/action as befits a core-sf "sense of wonder" novel versus a "run of the mill" action thriller.

The book has a great ending which makes it a quasi-standalone, though of course I want to know what happens next in the Poseidon's Children series which "Blue Remembered Earth" (top 25 novel of mine) debuts so magnificently. If you want to understand why sf at its best is still the most interesting form of literature today, "Blue Remembered Earth" and the recently reviewed In the Mouth of the Whale are the places to go.


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