Review: Blue Remembered Earth, by Alastair Reynolds


(Gollancz, 9780575088283)
(Review first appeared in ASIM 54, April 2012)

In Blue Remembered Earth, Alastair Reynolds’ latest widescreen SF offering, Geoffrey Akinya is the black sheep of an enormously wealthly African family, and a man for whom money holds importance only so far as it permits him to progress his independent studies on elephant socialisation and communication. As the story opens, Geoffrey is sent to the moon at the behest of his strongly business-minded cousins, Hector and Lucas, to retrieve a mysterious item from his newly-deceased grandmother’s bank vault. The item in question is disappointingly mundane, but it contains a riddle which soon ensnares Geoffrey and his artist sister Sunday, placing them at the centre of a nebulous but nonetheless deadly conflict of mid-22nd-century ideologies.

Reynolds is a master craftsman in modern SF. His combination of hard SF concepts, taut and tense plotlines, and plausibly detailed characterisation is seldom less than satisfying, and BRE again shows his skills to very good effect. The novel is expressed in a clean, relatively ornamentation-free prose—one of the Reynolds trademarks—which promotes accessibility without compromising quality.

If I have a quibble, it’s that, as the intended first volume in a trilogy, BRE is not completely self-contained, nor set up for a spectacular finish in and of its own right. There’s a sense, in places, that Reynolds is simply ‘showing off’ in arranging planetary or interplanetary backdrops for his plays of idea and character interaction which, in a couple of instances, might seem gratuitous. (It is, for me, most directly the aquatic sequences in BRE that spring to mind in this regard, though it’s entirely possible that other readers might well be captivated by the exuberance of Reynolds’ admittedly assured worldbuilding.)

Trilogies are a dime-a-dozen in fantasy. They’re not often attempted in SF (the principal example that occurs to me is Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy), where the more widely-accepted approach is the continuing series which might, after one (Pohl’s Gateway) or several (Asimov’s Foundation) initial masterworks, devolve into self-satirising or otherwise disappointing sequels. I’ll be interested to see how Reynolds follows up BRE—can he avoid the holding-pattern sensibility embodied by, say, The Two Towers to produce a second volume as worthwhile and as mesmerising as Robinson’s Green Mars?

I hope he can. BRE is a largely fascinating and multi-faceted exploration of life in the fast lane, high, wide, and dangerous, a century and a half from now. I can recommend it as a solid and engrossing read.

As for whatever follows? Well, that’s clearly another story …

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