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Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds

Werthead

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2057. In the depths of the Solar system, large spacecraft routinely intercept and redirect ice asteroids and comets into Earth orbit, where their raw materials can be used to fuel Earth's growing economy and incessant need for raw materials. When Saturn's moon Janus inexplicably leaves its orbit and heads out of the Solar system in the direction of the star Spica, an 'ice-pusher' ship named Rockhopper is the only vessel positioned to intercept it. The plan is for the ship to tail the anomaly for a week before returning to Earth. Naturally, complications ensue and the crew of Rockhopper are forced to make a home on Janus as it accelerates towards lightspeed, which will carry them to Spica in 250 years, although thanks to time dilation only a dozen years will pass for those on board.

Pushing Ice is a hard SF novel in the 'Big Dumb Object' tradition, following in the footsteps of Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama, Larry Niven's Ringworld and Greg Bear's Eon. However, unlike a lot of BDO books which tend to put characterisation way behind spectacle and awe, Pushing Ice is centred firmly on the relationship between two female crewmembers of the Rockhopper, Captain Bella Lind and navigator Svetlana Barseghian, two firm friends who suffer a catastrophic falling-out over the Rockhopper's new mission and whose subsequent relations colour much of the novel. This gives the book an emotional centre which helps make it easier to relate to the more traditional, awe-inspiring spectacle stuff that unfolds later on.

Whilst unrelated to any of his other novels, Pushing Ice features Reynolds' trademark use of non-faster-than-light travel and the inevitable closer interrelationship between humanity and its machines, although broadly along more positive lines than his Revelation Space novels. Pushing Ice is also more relatable, as its technology is less exotic and much closer to current day levels, meaning his characters have to work even harder to survive in the hostile environments they find themselves in.

Pushing Ice becomes a multi-generational tale as life on Janus during and after is voyage unfolds and Reynolds' story reaches impressive new levels of invention as we discover more about the alien Spicans and their goals. There is a strong similarity here to Clarke's Rama Cycle, but he makes more interesting and focused points in considerably less time and pages than Clarke's earlier work, and the characters he uses to achieve that goal are considerably more interesting.

Pushing Ice ( ****-and-a-half ) doesn't quite hit the same high as Reynolds' masterwork Chasm City, but it comes damn close. As a hard SF novel in the Big Dumb Object tradition, Pushing Ice is a triumph, but achieves its success with more emotion and heart than most such books. This novel is thoroughly recommended and is available from Gollancz in the UK and from Ace in the USA.
 

Parson

This world is not my home
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Wert,

Would agree that "Pushing Ice" is a solid novel. I perhaps did not like it as much as you. Give me Rendezvous with Rama anytime in place of this.

What I really, really, did not like about this novel was the frustrating life long fight between the captain and the navigator. Come on! Aren't we all adults!!! Where was the grace? Where was the forgiveness? Their "cat fight" I can call it none other, was a major spoiler in the novel.
 

J-Sun

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Oct 23, 2008
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4,889
Spoilers throughout my post.

Pushing Ice is a hard SF novel in the 'Big Dumb Object' tradition, following in the footsteps of Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama, Larry Niven's Ringworld and Greg Bear's Eon. However, unlike a lot of BDO books which tend to put characterisation way behind spectacle and awe, Pushing Ice is centred firmly on the relationship between two female crewmembers of the Rockhopper, Captain Bella Lind and navigator Svetlana Barseghian, two firm friends who suffer a catastrophic falling-out over the Rockhopper's new mission and whose subsequent relations colour much of the novel. This gives the book an emotional centre which helps make it easier to relate to the more traditional, awe-inspiring spectacle stuff that unfolds later on.
There is a strong similarity here to Clarke's Rama Cycle, but he makes more interesting and focused points in considerably less time and pages than Clarke's earlier work
Wert,

Would agree that "Pushing Ice" is a solid novel. I perhaps did not like it as much as you. Give me Rendezvous with Rama anytime in place of this.

What I really, really, did not like about this novel was the frustrating life long fight between the captain and the navigator. Come on! Aren't we all adults!!! Where was the grace? Where was the forgiveness? Their "cat fight" I can call it none other, was a major spoiler in the novel.
Partly agree with Parson, there. I didn't particularly care for Bella Lind taken for herself, only liking her in relation to Svetlana Barseghian. I have rarely hated a character so much as I hated Svetlana. It ruined the middle of the novel - I almost threw it across the room several times in that area - and damaged the whole. I'll also take Rama any day. My Rama is 274 pages long and I don't need, haven't read, and don't count Lee's sequels. My Pushing Ice was 580 pages long. That's not at all shorter, head to head.

That said, I disagree with Parson in one regard - it was incredibly belated, incredibly weak, and Svetlana got off incredibly easily, but - as Lind always had the moral high ground, so she was instrumental in rescuing Svetlana's daughter when Svetlana's actions killed many and reasonably should have killed her daughter. This resulted in Bella's "death", which resulted in Svetlana finally returning the favor and risking her own life to attempt Bella's rescue and then doing what she could to "Frost Angel" her. And finally, while no sacrifice on her part, she did make sure that any parts of her brain "patterns" could be used to help splint Bella's damaged structures on Bella's much-delayed resurrection. This is actually a plothole on a literal level, since Schrope's remnants were used to splice Chisholm's damaged brain so, really, any brain pattern should have done as well but it's hard to get more symbolically reflective of two opposed sides "coming together" and "becoming one". And I think it's interesting that Bella, in her initially confused state on being resurrected, mistakes Svetlana's searching for her as Bella's searching for Svetlana and, indeed, takes on more of Svetlana's "sins" herself. And, concerning Svetlana, she could arguably be getting a cushy setup getting rejuved and fleeing the long arm of the law with her similarly newly-young husband and all when she should have been tried and executed for mass murder but, on the other hand, she maybe finally relinquishes her petty power games and does something selflessly for the community that, indeed, is described as being beneficial in giving them information to trade. So after nearly wrecking the novel with ridiculously petty, boring, and vengeful stupidity, he does resolve it a bit better.

But, yeah - not what I read this stuff for. I thought - like apparently all Reynolds' novels, though I've only read three - the first part started slow, but was interesting in its depiction of doing a job in space - kind of like Alien without the alien. And I've often had fanciful thoughts of how neat (or horrible) it might be if various anomalies in our system were not natural, but were artifacts. So it's neat to see that handled here. Other than Rama and this and maybe another thing or two, it doesn't seem to be handled enough, but I'm likely forgetting stuff.

Where this is really different from most books like this, and not in a good way, is that the initial BDO really seems to be a capital "D" BDO and no one ever really explores it or learns much from it and it's just not very interesting. The better BDO is what turns out to be the containing structure. Allen Steele's Hex was written later and it, too, suffers from poor and misplaced characterization, but it most reminds me of that here. A giant structure with a zoo of aliens. I liked that aspect. I also liked the aliens. While the Fountainheads were pleasingly physically non-anthropomorphic, they were arguably too mentally anthropomorphic but I think that was just an interface. Enough of their psyches were hinted at, beyond our direct connections with them, to indicate that we were merely compatible and not the same. And the Musk Dogs were a blast. Physically, technically, mentally bizarre. Yes, very "doglike" but in a really vivid strange way. The Whisperers were probably the weirdest of all, and the Uncontained were left appropriately unexamined. And I particularly liked the sense of scale in time and space and technology that was given off. Various of the imagined technologies might as well have been magic, but never lost a "tech" sense.

Though, incidentally, part of that was another failing. It was so nice to read a modern SF novel without nanotech (the absence of which was nicely explained) or immortal posthumans (once you get past the prologue) and so on. So, naturally, nanotech and even femtotech and perpetually resurrecting everybody was dragged in by the disastrous middle part. And, incidentally, while the transition from Part One to Part Two was ruinous for me because it emotionally disconnected me from the book and had a lot of "kids on the playground picking teams" vibe, at least it made a kind of sense. Whereas the transition from Part Two to Part Three, while being more tolerable for putting Bella back in charge, was completely handwaved by Reynolds and is really poor writing. Svetlana's resurrecting Chisholm is suddenly supposed to put Bella back in power? I don't buy that at all. And I'm amazed someone didn't shoot both Bella and Svetlana and say, "Enough of that bickering - I'm in charge!" Why did the entire population seem to regard them as the only two possible leaders?

But, anyway - overall, this is why I generally keep reading books even when I want to quit at points (though I just recently gave up on another) - I feel he just barely did manage to make it worth my while in the end and I have to say I liked it overall. But I could hear people praise it to the skies or rip it to the ground and would find points to agree with in both.
 

Parson

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J-Sun fine post. You put much more work and thought into this than I ever would. I agree with you right down the line. I was a bit harsh, but I'm not going to admit more than that. (Other than not remembering the stuff in anything like the detail that you do.) [Picture of Parson with his mouth open in amazement.]
 

Shane Enochs

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I was at the library yesterday eager to pick up some decent sci-fi (haven't been there in quite a while, I must say). Alastair Reynolds was on my list, yet my library (county library) didn't have anything by him. I was saddened =\
 

Parson

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I was at the library yesterday eager to pick up some decent sci-fi (haven't been there in quite a while, I must say). Alastair Reynolds was on my list, yet my library (county library) didn't have anything by him. I was saddened =\
I am often saddened by what my (semi) local library has available in the SF realm. Seems to be most limited to Star Wars and Star Trek spinoffs, with classic stuff that I've read decades ago. When these are not true it's usually books 2 and 6 in a series. :confused:
 

Glitch

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This was the first novel from Alastair Reynolds I read. I picked it up after reading his short story collection Galactic North.

I liked it enough to pick up some more of his stuff. Have read The Prefect, now starting on House of Suns.
 

AE35Unit

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Well I only read half way thru this book and I lost my reading mojo. It was a library book so had to go back. I agree its s great book and I desperately want to read it again!
 

biodroid

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Bought this on Kindle last night and seems good so far, not far in yet
 

cyberpunkdreams

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I'd agree that it's not one of his ones, but it well worth reading nonetheless. The big cat fight was frustrating, but it still rang true to me. With the right (wrong!?) combination of personality types this can certainly happen!
 
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