Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds

Tachyon Publications, 2015, 194 p

 Slow Bullets cover

This novella starts just after an armistice in a long war waged partly on religious differences. Each side had its sacred Book, “And I’m sure there is tremendous grace and power in these words. Tremendous wisdom and humanity – as well as ignorance and superstition and foolhardiness,” but Scur was not an ardent believer and her mother, very fond of the enemy’s official war poet, introduced her to the poem “Morning Flowers.” Just before the armistice Scur was captured by an enemy patrol and tortured by a war criminal called Orvin who left her for dead. Yet she mysteriously wakes up on the skipship Caprice along with soldiers of both sides, the ship’s crew and civilians of various sorts.

But things are awry. The skip has gone wrong, they are a thousand years in the future and the ship’s memory is malfunctioning. Not only that but sometime in the intervening years aliens dubbed The Sickening passed through human space. They could change physics, turning down the brightness of suns. No remnant of the civilisation the awakened people on the ship can remember is left.

While Scur’s desire for retribution on Orvin partly drives the story along so also does the rest of the ship’s company’s attempts to discard their differences and to preserve humanity’s knowledge. The slow bullets of the title contain information about their bearers, including personal memories, but can be overwritten. As such they are necessary to the story’s resolution, as is “Morning Flowers.”

The novella length doesn’t really give Reynolds much chance to develop character, most of the inhabitants are there to carry the plot along, but the justice Scur metes out to Orvin is not what we might expect and there is an elegiac tone to the ending.

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