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Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds

Werthead

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Blue Remembered Earth

Tanzania, 2161. The matriarch of the Akinya family, Eunice, a famous pioneer of space travel and exploration, has died at the age of 130. The family convenes for the funeral, but grandson Geoffrey would prefer to be carrying on his research into elephant cognition. When an anomaly is discovered amongst Eunice's possessions, Geoffrey is asked to investigate, the beginning of a journey that will take him from Earth to the Moon to Mars...and further still.

Alastair Reynolds's new novel is the first in a new sequence, Poseidon's Children, which will span 11,000 years of human history. As such, the three books in the sequence will presumably be stand-alones, divided by immense gulfs in history, but with added context given to the reader by reading all three in order. Reynolds and his publisher have backed away from the 'trilogy' moniker (and the 'Book One of Poseidon's Children' tagline present on some early drafts of the cover has been removed) to de-emphasise the idea this is a serialised story that people will have to wait years to be concluded.

Reynolds is noted for having a somewhat grim vision of the future in his previous books, so Blue Remembered Earth is notable for its more optimistic tone. The human race has become richer and more technologically advanced than ever before, with Africa now driving the world economy and formerly war-torn, poverty-stricken states are now prosperous and driven. The price of this new era of peace and development is the Surveilled World, a state of near-total coverage of the planet by AIs which intervene if any crimes are detected. As a result almost no crimes or murders have been committed in decades (although Reynolds, a noted fan of crime thrillers, can't help dropping one puzzling and apparently impossible murder in as a subplot). This near-total surveillance state is not so prevalent on other planets and moons, however, due to time-lag issues.

The book is essentially a treasure hunt, with Geoffrey and his sister Sunday following the trail of clues left behind by their grandmother which ultimately leads to the Big Reveal. The trail, and the resulting plot, are somewhat convoluted and, it has to be said, unconvincing. Nevertheless, the story is entertaining with a constant stream of inventive ideas: an area on Mars controlled by rogue machines; an AI simulacrum of Eunice who provides advice and becomes more and more like the real Eunice as they uncover more information; attempts to help improve the quality of life for zoo elephants by merging them holographically with a real herd in the African wilderness; and a system-wide telescope being used to scan for signs of life on other worlds. The characters, particularly Geoffrey and Sunday (our main POV characters) are well-developed as we learn their respective reasons for turning against the family's strict business-oriented hierarchy, but even their antagonistic siblings (who initially appear to be villainous) are fleshed-out satisfyingly by the end of the book.

As the most low-tech of Reynolds's books to date, Blue Remembered Earth is perhaps his most conservative in terms of ideas and scale and scope. This isn't a bad thing and he seems to enjoy working under greater technological constraints than previously, but occasionally he seems to chafe against the restrictions (the robots on Mars and the large-scale mining of the Oort Cloud both seem somewhat more advanced than the tech elsewhere). He also doesn't fully explore the freedom implications of having a state of total surveillance, other than in a cursory surface manner.

Still, Blue Remembered Earth (****) is highly readable, brimming with ideas and refreshingly optimistic. Recommended. The novel is available now in the UK and on 5 June 2012 in the USA.
 

Rodders

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I haven't yet bought this, but i'm looking forward to getting it. Good to see that it's being generally well received.
 

Patrick Mahon

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Thanks for another helpful review, Werthead. I'm waiting for my copy to turn up, hopefully in the next day or so, then I can see for myself! :)
 

JimBraiden

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Jan 30, 2012
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Just finished the Kindle Edition. An excellent read- Reynolds continues to grow as a writer and although the size of his canvas is smaller here than in the Chasm City stories the detail is clearer and the story line tighter.
Looking forward to the next volume- and to his Dr.Who novel.
 

Rodders

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I picked this up over the weekend only to have the cover ruined in a thunderstorm on the way home.
 

Coragem

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I don't agree with the positive review (see my prior post, below).

The books has lots going for it (great world building and groundwork in the first third, excellent prose) but the plotting is poor and (increasingly) the descriptions way over-long.

In terms of the plotting, basically half the novel (the entire Mars strand) comes to nothing – needn't have happened for the story to reach it's resolution.

I feel something similar happened with Century Rain – awesome start but then the plot meandered and action sequences filled in for solid story telling. Reynolds has said he pre-planned his next novel scene by scene before he began to write, and I suspect that was an initiative to avoid this sort of problem.

In the past he's always written without much plotting/planning. Which can work amazingly well if things fall well (I think most of his books are masterworks!) but not always.

Coragem.

http://www.sffchronicles.co.uk/forum/536131-who-stole-alastair-reynolds.html
 
Joined
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^^ I've hard some of those criticisms of AR before, and I'll admit that I sometimes agree. Terminal World got off to a great start then never went anywhere until the end.

I've got BRE on my bedside table now- going to start it this week, and very excited!
 

Werthead

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On the Steel Breeze



Portgual, 2365. Chiku Akinya is one of three clones, and the only one to remain on Earth. One of her 'sisters' is on a dangerous space mission to the edge of the Solar system, trying to recover a deceased relative. Another is on a massive holoship, more than a dozen light-years from Earth, headed to investigate a giant alien artifact picked up by a powerful space telescope. But some strange events compel Chiku to venture to Venus and Mars, and what she discovers will have important ramifications for her sisters far out amongst the stars.


On the Steel Breeze is a semi-sequel to Blue Remembered Earth and the middle volume of the loose-knit Poseidon's Children trilogy. Though readable as an independent novel, a number of references in this novel will resonate more if you have read the previous book.

As before, the book unfolds from the point-of-view of the Akinya family, a dynasty that became rich due to the explosion in Africa's economy. Chiku is the daughter of Sunday, one of Blue Remembered Earth's protagonists, and the novel is told from her fractured POV as memories are shared between her three different bodies. The two main characters are Chiku Yellow, who remains in the Solar system, and Chiku Green, who is living on the holoship (a hollowed-out asteroid fitted with engines and life-support equipment, carrying 10 million people to the planet Crucible) Zanzibar.

The result is, effectively, two SF novellas that unfold simultaneously, with each 'sister' updating the other on what's going on through lengthy radio transmissions that allow them to update and integrate each other's memories, thus giving them a clearer picture than what each individually would be able to find out. There are echoes here of Reynolds's earlier House of Suns (which featured a woman splintered into different incarnations), as well as the Revelation Space books which featured storylines unfolding light-years apart with the speed of light limitation making it difficult for people to communicate with one another. The two stories feel rather different to one another, but ultimately integrate into a mostly satisfying whole.

Chiku Yellow's storyline takes in 24th Century Earth, attempts to explore the planet Venus (complicated by the planet's hellish surface conditions) and visits to Mars and Saturn. Some elements (and characters) from Blue Remembered Earth are revisited in these sequences. This section is enjoyable, but risks retreading the same ground from the earlier novel. This is mostly averted by some excellent descriptions and use of real science, especially in the disaster-movie storyline that unfolds on Venus.

The meat of the story, however, is in the holoship caravan making its way to Crucible at 13% of lightspeed. Here Reynolds lets his imagination have full reign, creating an interstellar society that is trying to survive the agonisingly slow journey without collapsing. There are evocative descriptions of how the holoships work and how they are organised, as well as intimations of their politics. However, a fuller exploration of the caravan is not possible due to a constrained page count and the need to flip back to the other narrative at key points. This helps keep the story on track and focused, but it does result in some lost depth to the Zanzibar storyline. Most notably, a climax to that storyline revolving around the complex politics of both the holoshop and the caravan as a whole lacks resonance due to those elements not being explored in greater detail earlier.

Reynolds admirably raises the tension and stakes as the story switches back and forth across the light-years, building up the narrative drive in a way that Blue Remembered Earth rather lacked. However, this tension is then dissipated by an undercooked finale: Chiku reaches Crucible, some fascinating events unfold there and the book rather abruptly ends. I'd hesitate to call it a cliffhanger, but there's a lot of unresolved events and elements left for the final book in the series to address. It also doesn't help that the main theme of the series (strongly hinted at in the first volume) seems to be the struggle between organic life and the machine life it creates. This is not a new theme for Reynolds (it was also explored in the Revelation Space series) and he comes at it from a different angle here, but those who have watched the new Battlestar Galactica TV series or played the Mass Effect video game trilogy may find themselves groaning at the re-use of a very familiar trope. How successful Reynolds is in putting a fresh spin on it remains to be seen, as it appears to be an idea which will be explored more in-depth in the third book in the series.

On the Steel Breeze (****) is a fine hard SF novel that explores some interesting and intelligent ideas. The book's two-part structure allows for a lot of story to be explored efficiently, but also results in some elements not being as fleshed-out as might be desired. In addition, the ending is abrupt and there is no guarantee that the next book will explain much of it (the third book, it is rumoured, will pick up thousands of years later). It's still a fascinating novel and for much of its length is a better book than Blue Remembered Earth, but it also definitely suffers a bit from 'middle volume syndrome'. The novel is available now in the UK and next year in the USA.
 

sozme

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Feb 24, 2013
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had to put this one down like 35% of the way through. It was kind of cool how he described the Mars and the Moon, but the plot overall was convoluted and the characters (especially the elephant guy) were boring to me.
 

The Judge

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I managed to finish BRE when I read it back in June, but by golly I found it hard going. My thoughts from my book non-blog at the time:

Well written and intelligent, with lots happening after an African matriarch dies, but approaching half-way I'm still not terribly gripped by either the plot or the characters.
and

The second half of Blue Remembered Earth passed more quickly than the first, but while I was happy enough with the writing (though how I wish SF writers didn't feel obliged to info-dump pages about the science and technology) I remained dissatisfied overall. The treasure-hunt style clues that were the wellspring for the plot were implausible and in the end proved totally unnecessary to the actual denouement, which speaks of something of a failure of plotting to my mind, and I never became interested enough in any of the spoilt, sullen, petulant characters to be at all worried as to what happened to them.
 
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