I got so many great new books early in the year that it is taking me a while to get around to reading them all. Finally, however, I’ve taken a look at the new Alastair Reynolds novel, Blue Remembered Earth. This, as you are probably aware, is the start of a new series, and it is one that is very much in the current fashion for solar system-based stories, as exemplified by 2312, The Quiet War and Leviathan Wakes. Inevitably, however, Reynolds does things in his own way, and BRE is a fine addition to the conversation.
The book takes place in the 22nd Century, so colonization of the planets is much less advanced that it is in 2312. There is a functioning colony on the Moon, and another on Mars. Beyond that, there are only mining operations and scientific research bases. However, some very big changes have taken place on Earth.
“Out of that time of crisis grew the global surveillance network, this invisible, omniscient god that never tires of watching over us, never tires of keeping us from doing harm to one another. Oh, it had been there in pieces before that, but this was the first time we devolved absolute authority to the Mechanism. And you know what? It wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened to us. We’re all living in a totalitarian state, but for the most part it’s a benign, kindly dictatorship. It allows us to do most things except suffer accidents and commit crimes.”
Thus speaks Eunice Akinya, the central character of the book. Or rather, it is one of the several electronic ghosts of Eunice that appear in the narrative, for the book begins with her funeral, and the action follows two of her grandchildren, Geoffrey and Sunday.
Of course not everyone wants to be watched over by nannying machines. The Culture, who wants it, eh? So there is a colony of anarchists and artists on the dark side of the Moon. It is known as the Descrutinised Zone. Sunday Akinya and her roboticist partner, Jitendra, live there. Geoffrey prefers to escape by going out into the bush, where the Mechanism’s coverage is thinner. He’s one of the world’s greatest experts on elephants. And then, of course, there’s always under the sea.
With this, Gilbert divested herself of the exo. She slipped out of it and slid into the water, sleek as an otter. Released from the exo she was effectively naked, but her form was so thoroughly alien that Geoffrey might as well have been watching a wildlife documentary.
Mira Gilbert is a member of the Panspermian Initiative, a political movement dedicated to spreading life throughout the galaxy. They are transhumanists, and generally on the bleeding edge of biology.
The other thing you should have noticed by now is that economic power on Earth has shifted. There are few white people in BRE. The Akinya family, owners of the vast Akinya Space industrial conglomerate, is Kenyan. Other ethnic groups key to the colonization of the solar system are Indians and Chinese. Two key supporting characters are a married gay couple. This doesn’t mean that Capitalism has gone away. Indeed, Eunice appears to have been a very competent businesswoman. Two of her other grandchildren, Hector and Lucas, now head up Akinya Space, and they are every bit as corporate as an IBM executive. They don’t get on well with Geoffrey and Sunday. The people may have changed, but the basic issues of money and power have not.
As I mentioned earlier, BRE is the start of a series. It is a set-up book. Grandma Eunice has just died, but she spent the latter part of her life cocooned away in the Winter Palace, a space station in Lunar orbit. Going through her effects, the family find a sealed deposit box in a Lunar bank, and this sets Geoffrey and Sunday off on a treasure trail filled with tests. Eunice has left something for her grandchildren, and she wants to be sure that they are worthy of it.
The treasure hunt plotline gives Reynolds plenty of opportunity to propel his characters around the solar system, and thereby introduce the world. It is also his method of getting us filled in on Eunice’s life story. The mystery, such as it is, is both predictable in its ultimate nature but also nicely disguised in detail. There’s a bit of fun along the way too.
They found a bar called the Red Menace, on the edge of a glassed-over mall filled with high-end boutiques and expensive souvenir shops. The Red Menace’s stock-in-trade was bad-taste Martian-invasion kitsch, from the slime-green cocktails to the skull-masked bartenders and clanking steam-actuated Wellsian tripods that brought the drinks, clutching glasses in their tentacles and carrying bar snacks in baskets tucked under their bodies. Heat-rays pulsed through puffs of dry ice, while portentous military music throbbed from underfloor bass speakers.
Had Sunday been more up on her 20th Century musical history she would doubtless have recognized a Jeff Wayne composition when she heard one.
For the hard SF fan there is still plenty in BRE to spark interest. Reynolds knows what he is doing when it comes to space science, and is happy to include a few gosh, wow machines. But he also clearly wants to tell a character-centered story, and get into discussion of fairly serious philosophical issues regarding the future of mankind. I get the impression of a writer determined to stretch himself, and that has to be a good thing.
For more information about Alastair Reynolds, see the SF Encyclopedia.
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