|On the Steel Breeze – Alastair Reynolds|
|Pushing forward back|
With opening chapters which summarise the events of Blue Remembered Earth without spoiling the mysteries which drove that novel, the new reader is brought up to speed swiftly and efficiently, but for those wishing to revisit Geoffrey and Sunday Akinya, neither are forgotten, nor the late clan matriarch Eunice whose legacy still drives the push outwards from the solar system in surprising ways, the artilect constructed of her memories still active and participatory, though concealed.
With much of the narrative set aboard a vast colony ship, there are reminders of the interludes of Reynolds’ second novel, Chasm City, though despite the divisions among the flotilla and the setbacks they encounter, fortunately there are none aboard so ruthless as the Santiago’s Sky Haussman, determined his ship should reach its destination first at any cost.
Similarly, Reynolds has featured clones before, the Gentian line of House of Suns, split into a thousand shatterlings, and the sharing of memories by the Chikus reminds of Robert A Heinlein’s Time for the Stars where a pair of telepathic twins could instantaneously communicate across the light years, though the experience of the Chikus is more practically realised because they must contend with the time lag of the speed of light.
While the machine substrate consciousness has quite intelligently embraced an aspect of Frederik Pohl’s Nebula winning novel Man Plus, another concept from House of Suns explored very differently here is the animosity between organic and synthetic life, and there are aspects of the Eunice artilect which remind of Hesperus, the survivor of the Machine People who became a guest of the Gentian Line, though as a character she bears no resemblance.
Continuing his predilection for strong female leads, the Chikus are fascinating, bound together though separated by light years, any rivalry between ultimately a competition with themselves. Also interesting is Travertine, a being with vis own personal pronouns for reasons never explained, and it is likely that the descendants of the briefly met Dakota will play a huge part in the future of the human colonists and that of her own species.
Once again, Reynolds hasn’t just written a grand space opera, a technologically plausible exodus across the frontiers of space, diverse populations and families and ecosystems carried in carved out asteroids to the stars, he has created a mystery which he teasingly unravels before his readers. Though the novel occasionally drags, it is a satisfying and rounded narrative, and the conclusion indicates two directions which will likely be taken in the as yet unnamed third volume, to be set much deeper into the future.
Most excitingly, Crucible offers not only the Mandala but another presence, the first time Reynolds has approached the science fiction trope of the “big dumb object” since 2005’s Pushing Ice, though in this instance it might be more appropriate to term it a “big smart object,” the apparent silence the result of the unimaginable gulf between the human narrators and their discovery.
While that is perhaps best left alone, it is Travertine who explains why that will not happen: “Meddling is what we do. It’s what defines us. Meddling gave us fire and tools and civilisation and the keys to the universe. Fingers will get burned along the way, yes. That’s the way of it.”
On the Steel Breeze is available now from Gollancz
Geek Chocolate have previously interviewed Alastair Reynolds, and we have reviewed is novels Blue Remembered Earth and Terminal World, his short story collection Deep Navigation and his Doctor Who novel Harvest of Time