I always look forward to a new Alastair Reynolds novel but the wait for his latest, ‘Blue Remembered Earth’, seems to have been longer than normal. That perceived delay was exacerbated by the fact that my pre-order arrived on schedule but that was still several days AFTER the book started appearing in Waterstone’s shops. (Whoops, sorry, slipped an apostrophe in there – can’t help myself).
Briefly the plot of the book centres round a “treasure hunt” involving the two main characters Geoffrey and Sunday Akinya. Sunday and Geoffrey have rejected their roles in the great corporate family business, astro engineering. But the death of their grandmother Eunice, the matriarch of the family, pitches them into a solar system wide search for what could be a great family secret – with the more business orientated family members in hot pursuit. Oh, and it features one of the most zealous Social Work services in SF – ever!
BRE has been portrayed as something of a departure from his previous work in that the drama in the book is more about man vs nature than any conflict with villains as such. But, whilst the bulk of the conflict arises from different goals rather than malign intent, there’s still one character, peripheral to the main thrust of the narrative perhaps, but someone whose actions nevertheless are undoubtedly malign. Is it fair to say that they are wearing a black hat? I think so.
Structurally the book is a much more of a thriller/mystery than I’d expected but that is undoubtedly something which Reynolds does exceptionally well. The plot leaps unpredictably from one element to the next such that you’re never quite sure what’s coming next.
So, for me, the biggest departure isn’t so much the type of book it is but rather its setting. Whilst all of his previous novels have been far future, BRE is set in the middle of the next century. As a consequence, Reynolds has to create a world that has strong connections to our own but which appears at least as advanced to us now as we would look to someone from Victorian times. It’s not an easy trick to pull off but one he accomplishes with some aplomb.
The most significant element of his 22nd century world is the Mechanism. The Mechanism is a slightly scary neural safety valve which neutralises any violent impulse any individual on Earth might have – by first disabling the would-be assailant then, more terrifying than any neural stun, setting the aforementioned Social Work Service on the perp. Not surprisingly the Earth of the 22nd century is a society with virtually no crime nor violence. But at what price?
But it’s the smaller details of his world(s) that emphasise Reynolds’s imagination – the slo-mo Robot Wars, the blowpipes and then of course there’s the elephants. And any fan of the author’s more grotesque creations will surely revel in Holroyd when he appears.
BRE may not be a complete break with his past work, but it still marks the author’s continuing expansion of his craft. And most importantly (as usual) it’s a hugely enjoyable SF novel.
Buy ‘Blue Remembered Earth’ in your local bookshop or online.
You can read the first 3 chapters from the novel here. And then watch the video!