Book review: Slow Bullets, by Alastair Reynolds

10 08 2017

Alastair Reynolds is a Brish SF writer whose work, characterised most powerfully by the ‘Revelation Space’ sequence of novels, has been at the forefront of space-based SF for the past couple of decades. I’ve reviewed quite a bit of Reynolds’ work over the years.

SlowBullets

Slow Bullets sees war veteran Scur awaken unexpectedly, alongside many of her fellow combatants from both sides of the conflict, on the Caprice, a transport ship in orbit around an unidentified planet. She quickly learns that the ship, designed for interstellar travel via hyperspace jumps, is only partially functional; she also learns that, of the approximately one thousand people that had been in hibernation aboard the vessel, a couple of hundred have not successfully emerged from the long sleep. However, the most pressing need is to ensure that active conflict between the two ‘sides’ does not break out onboard, and with the not-entirely-willing assistance of timid but pragmatic crewmember Prad (gunpoint can make for a highly effective shortcut during negotiations) she’s able to restore something approaching calm and civil order amongst the Caprice‘s confused occupants. The next step is to figure out where they are, and to determine how best to re-establish contact with civilisation …

Slow Bullets packs a lot into its novella-sized frame. The backstory (setting the scene for the conflict among the hundred inhabited worlds) is dealt with briefly, and there’s quite a lot of other territory covered as life aboard the Caprice shifts unsteadily from survival to sophistication. Although the characterisation is effective enough, it’s very much a story cast in the classic SF mould, in which the idea is paramount; the titular concept of the ‘slow bullet’ is, in essence, an injectable data-storage implant routinely emplaced in military personnel, for the dual purposes of tracking and identification. The spin which Reynolds places on this device is quite ingenious. The story manages, also, to riff off some of the concepts in Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, as well as picking apart—powerfully, but without bombast—the propensity for religious observance to both unify and divide. It is, in short, one of the most effective and rewarding pieces of writing I’ve seen from Reynolds, and would make an excellent introduction to his work.

 

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2 responses

10 08 2017
Sue Bursztynski (@SueBursztynski)

Sounds good! Can I get it in ebook?

11 08 2017
simonpetrie

Yes, I think so. Tachyon have released it in epub, mobi and pdf as well as print.

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