The Medusa Chronicles is a sequel to Arthur C Clarke’s novella A Meeting with Medusa (which I quickly read before this book), and I suspect you are always going to be taking a chance writing a sequel today (2016) to a story written so long ago (1971) and I think that this book suffers from that separation. Sometimes it felt like a modern book with the realism that is so much a quality of modern SF, especially, in my opinion, British modern SF, but at others it fell into that touch of fantasy that is so common in so many pieces of classic SF, even from hard SF authors like Clarke. In particular the tendency to have a single hero who could do just about everything and who always seems to pretty much save the day single-handed. To me Baxter and Reynolds never seemed to quite decide whether they were writing a pastiche in Clarke’s style or a modern book in their own style.
The Medusa Chronicles is also an alternate history (complete with a rather clumsy attempt towards the end to legitimise that) and I am sadly not too fond of alternate history stories (they always seem to me to be even more wish fulfilment than is typical in non-dystopian speculative fiction). I suspect Baxter and Reynolds felt this approach necessary being bound by the future history Clarke had already written in 1971. But I have to say I didn’t really come away from A Meeting with Medusa feeling that necessity, but I may have missed multiple subtle ‘historical’ clues in Clarke’s work.
Another big flaw for me was the whole Apollo back story interleaved through the main story, which didn’t really seem to have any significant relevance to that main story at all. It felt like it was just there to allow the authors to indulge themselves with some speculative what-ifs. Taken on its own it might have made a nice alternate history short story but spread throughout the main story like this had me patiently awaiting a big tie-in which never happened. Very disappointing.
All that said the scope of the book was impressively wide and the span impressively long. I enjoyed the world building and the story, despite the above grumbles and the fact that I never managed to warm to the main character, Howard Falcon; he just seemed like an intolerant grumpy old man, which may have been the intention but suffering such a character in close point of view for nearly 400 pages was a little trying.
Great ideas, great story, weak characters and I didn’t like the alternate history angle or the mix of styles. In the end it felt like a good story that could have been told so much better. I found it a bit of a struggle to get through, taking me far longer to read than should have been the case with a book of this size.