Galactic North by Alastair Reynolds

Werthead

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My review of Galactic North:

Alastair Reynolds' previous novels and novellas in his signature Revelation Space universe have been almost unanimously excellent works, but at times the reader (or this one, at any rate) can feel that there's a lot going on that they're not in the loop on. Characters appear whose significance is initially unclear and their backstories remain resolutely unexplained, although frequently alluded to, whilst the ending to Absolution Gap was rather abrupt, to say the least. Galactic North, a collection of eight short stories set in the universe, finally fills in the blanks and finally allows the reader to fully appreciate the breadth of this author's imagination.

Things kick off with Great Wall of Mars. Two centuries from now, the cybernetically-altered Conjoiners have sealed themselves off inside a fortified region of Mars. The forces of humanity opposed to the Conjoiners, the Coalition, is planning a final all-out assault but have agreed to a last-ditch peace mission undertaken by Nevil Clavain and a Demarchist mediator, Sandra Voi. Needless to say, things go awry. Those familiar with the previous novels will have a big grin on their face as we meet characters such as Clavain, Galiana and Felka for the first time, and find out how they met and how they get out of the jam they find themselves in here.

Glacial picks up the story some decades later, as the Conjoiner refugees find themselves wandering from star to star at sub-lightspeeds searching for a new home. On an ice world they find a human habitation, one of the few successfully established by the USA's seedship programme, and evidence of a crime that took place many years earlier which Clavain dedicates himself to solving. Reynolds' skills at detective fiction (previously employed in Century Rain and Chasm City) are on full display here and the story is very well-told.

A Spy in Europa is a neat story of sabotage, revenge and severe hubris. It sets up one of the later stories in the collection and provides some background on the Demarchists, another of the major factions of the Revelation Space universe. The ending is absolutely stellar.

Weather is an absolute barnstormer of a story. Reynolds take on the difficulties of space combat carried out between ships maneuvering at hundreds of thousands of miles per second has always been superb, but gets its best demonstration in this story. We also get one of the biggest mysteries in the Revelation Space universe revealed in this story in a startling manner, but it's the somewhat tender relationship between the narrator and his Conjoiner charge which gives the story its heart.

Dialation Sleep is the oldest story in the collection and the style isn't quite as polished as Reynolds' later work, but it's still an intriguing story about love and the loss caused by years spent in interstellar travel.

Grafenwalder's Bestiary is a thoroughly twisted story that serves as a semi-sequel to both the novella Diamond Dogs (published seperately by Gollancz with Turqoise Days) and to the earlier story A Spy in Europa. It's an excellent story about a collector in search of the perfect creatures to put on display, but there are echoes of other authors and stories here, in particular George RR Martin's Haviland Tuf stories and his famous novella Sandkings, but the ending is brilliant, if horribly inevitable.

I thoroughly recommend not eating anything before reading Nightingale, a thoroughly sick and twisted story of genetic manipulation. The ending is horrendous, but there is no denying the macabre brilliance of the tale.

Galactic North gives the collection its name and the entire Revelation Space universe its spine. We start off in 2303 AD with a frantic attempt to repair a stricken starship before the story carries us forwards through centuries and then millennia as the war against the Inhibitors, the Melding Plague, the Pattern Jugglers and every other major event of the previous novels and stories plays out as the backdrop to a story of absolute obsession and we finally discover the nature of the new threat that emerged at the end of Absolution Gap. A spectacular story that rounds off the collection in style.

Galactic North (****½) is a superb collection of stories from one of our very best SF writers, and is thoroughly recommended to newcomers to Reynolds' work and veterens of his previous tales alike. It is published by Gollancz in the UK and will by released on 27 May by Ace Books in the USA.
 

Foxbat

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I'm a fan of the short story but must admit I have never read any of Reynolds. Sounds like an interesting collection. I might just chase the moths out of my wallet for this one.

Good review by the way:)
 

ktabic

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Yes it is. If it wasn't for the fact I finished reading Galatic North just a couple of months ago I would be on foyles ordering it right now :)
 

Ursa major

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This collection shows modern SF story-telling at its best. Thought-provoking, and with more than a hint of horror (of the SF variety) in many of the stories. Altogether excellent; I'd recommend the book to anyone, particularly those who have read Reynolds's Revelation Space novels.
 

Parson

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Thanks for the review! I would like to fill in the gaps in Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Gap series. I kept waiting for the "revelation" and never felt I found a satisfactory one. And the lack of back story was absolutely frustrating! I might just break my promise to myself and pick up another of Reynolds' books.
 

Connavar

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Im reading Revelation Space and Reynolds for the first time and im very interested in his Universe.

I read an review about The Prefect and was wondering if its the only book in Revelation Space series that mystery elements ? I would love to see a good mystery in this interesting Universe. I enjoyed when its blended in well.
 

Werthead

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Chasm City is even more of a mystery/thriller novel than The Prefect.

Although it's not set in the same universe, Century Rain is the ultimate SF noir novel since a chunk of it really is a noir detective story set in an alternate-history version of 1950s Paris.
 

Connavar

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Chasm City is even more of a mystery/thriller novel than The Prefect.

Although it's not set in the same universe, Century Rain is the ultimate SF noir novel since a chunk of it really is a noir detective story set in an alternate-history version of 1950s Paris.
So he has 3 mystery/Noir SF books and 2 of them set in RS U that i like.

That makes me very excited about the those books !

To be honest Revelation Space lost some of its spark in the middle. I hope for a strong ending. Im at when The Ultras lighthugger come to Resurgam and pick up Sylveste.

Do you think he improved in dialouge writing ? I think thats his weakness in the first book.
 

Rodders

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Sorry to drag this old thread up.

This is a great series of books. I have found teh RS universe to be very complex and interesting. There's so much scope for this on.

There are some incredible short stories in Galactic North. I'd really recommend to anyone who has yet to dip their toe into RS. Some good and shocking stories.
 

Patrick Mahon

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I agree completely, Rodders - I read Galactic North a couple of months back, and thought it was a great collection. I've got Reynolds' novels on my to read list now ... :)
 

Rodders

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Yeah, i'd read them all. I really do think that he is an exceptional writer.

Miss not seeing any further novels set in the Revelation Space universe though. A great place to be IMO.
 

DeepThought

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Chasm City is one of my favorite SF novels. I have Galactic North (hardcover) on my shelf, thinking of reading it sometime soon. BTW great review.
 

Rodders

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I really would recommend Galactic North. And yes, Chasm City is a great read.
 

Rodders

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And the others ursa major? How did you find them?
 

Ursa major

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Of the books of his I've read, Chasm City is the best, followed by The Prefect. Century Rain was really good, followed by - on order - Revelation Space**, Pushing Ice, Redemption Ark and Absolution Gap.

The only story of his that I've not liked at all has been Diamond Dogs, simply because it's about obsession, which I treat as just another word for stupidity.







** - The first few chapters of this were hard to get into, but then it took off, as I've said elsewhere.
 

Rodders

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I loved Diamond Dogs. I really enjoyed the idea of the Blood Spire and you have to admit that obsession is a large part of being human.

As for the other, i must have missed something in Century Rain as i didn't enjoy it as much as anyone else by the looks of it. I still have to read Puching Ice and i'm looking forward to reading House of Sons.
 

Ursa major

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Lots of things are a part of being human - a more important part than being obsessional for the vast majority of us - but that doesn't mean that they naturally form the backbone of a good story. (Or if they do, we think: "the author must be really good to make that interesting.")


I thought that the Blood Spire was fine; until, that is, I realised that it was only there to make the plot "work": basically it was a great big MacGuffin that was there to the bitter end of the story.




(But one iffy story (in my opinion) is more than forgivable given the quality of the rest of his work.)
 
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