01/07/2012. Contributed by Pauline Morgan
pub: Gollancz. 505 page hardback. Price: £18.99 (UK only). ISBN: 978-0-575-08827-6.
check out websites: www.orionbooks.co.uk and www.alastairreynolds.com
In Science Fiction in the past, there has often been a nod towards all-inclusive multi-nationalism. Most of these attempts at portraying a unified world under one government too often have American democratic philosophies at their centre. If this was the universal view of SF authors world-wide, it might be regarded as a viable solution to humanities many crises. Unfortunately, many American authors seem a little out of touch with the rest of the world. Perhaps because they have always been closer to global events, European writers tend to look outside their immediate sphere of influence. In 'The Quiet War', Paul McAuley centres the advancement into space from Brazil, albeit after an almost total ecological collapse on Earth. Ian McDonald chose India as his focus for future economic and scientific development in 'River Of Gods', whereas in David Wingrove's 'Chung Quo' series, the Chinese dominate, covering the world with their vast cities.
Alastair Reynolds looks towards Africa to power in this tale of the future. The Akinya family had the good fortune to be in the right place at the right time and are wealthy and highly respected. In this far future, Europe and America are largely out of the picture; various unspecified events have allowed Africa to come into ascendance. This is a world where crime no longer exists because everyone has various augmentations as a matter of course. Some of these detect deviant or aggressive behaviour and not only prevent it but trigger an assessment procedure.
Although Geoffrey Akinya and his sister, Sunday, are the central characters there is always the sense of the ghost of their grandmother lurking in the wings. From childhood, Geoffrey became obsessed with elephants and was quite content to work with the herds on the reserve near his home. Everything changed when his grandmother, Eunice, died. After a life of roaming the solar system, she had spent the last sixty years as a virtual hermit in an orbiting space station. After the funeral, he would have been happy to return to his research but his cousins, Hector and Lucas, who run the financial side of the family business, ask a favour of him. All he has to do is go to the Moon and fetch back the contents of a safe deposit box, the last piece in the jigsaw of Eunice's affairs. Reluctant but promised extra funding for his elephants, he agrees to his first off-Earth trip. In the safe deposit box, he finds a glove from an old-fashioned spacesuit into which has been stuffed some worthless, artificial gems. The trip also gives Geoffrey the opportunity to visit Sunday. She is a non-conformist rebel, living a sector on the Moon where the constant stream of information to the implants does not exist.
The glove and gems lead Geoffrey and Sunday into mystery following a sixty year-old trail in the footsteps of their grandmother, Geoffrey back to Earth, Sunday to Mars and beyond. Some things have changed in the intervening period, so at times the siblings find themselves in serious jeopardy, making surprising discoveries about Eunice and themselves along the way.
Reynolds is very good at set piece scenarios, racking up the tension and interweaving his inventive technology. In many ways, this novel is a collection of shorter pieces due to the distances between incidents. He is a believer in sticking to the current laws of physics and not allowing space flight to exceed the speed of the technology. As Sunday follows Eunice's trail out into the solar system, understanding each clue is an episode in itself. Although the characters sleep the months of travel, it allows the reader a breathing space before the next big revelation.
The main characters are engaging and even the manipulative cousins eventually show their human side and the complexity of shifting civilisations gives the novel an added dimension. Just as the characters are looking outwards by the end, instead of allowing themselves to stay cocooned in the relative safety of the familiar, so Reynolds is one of those British authors who has the courage to look outwards and speculate on the successors of Western ideals. It is not comfortable to think that we will be replaced as drivers of the world's economy but the history of civilisation has shown that it is ultimately inevitable. The outward looking writers are merely asking the question, whose turn is it next?
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA