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SF Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times (vi)

(This week’s entry for Judith’s meme at Reader in the Wilderness.)

Again these are small-size (original size) SF paperbacks. Again they are housed in the garage and again are double-parked.

It was difficult to get back far enough to fit these all into the photo.

They start at Stanisław Lem and finish at Connie Willis. There’s a whole shelf of Robert Silverberg in here. Other notables: George R R Martin, Ian McDonald, Larry Niven, Christopher Priest, Tim Powers, Kim Stanley Robinson, Bob Shaw, Cordwainer Smith, James Tiptree Jr (aka Alice Sheldon,) Harry Turtledove and Ian Watson.

Science FIction Books

SF Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times (iii)

Another for Judith Reader in the Wilderness‘s meme.

This week, the remainder of my SF hardbacks. Click pictures to enlarge them.

More Ian McDonald, China Miéville, Christopher Priest, Keith Roberts, Kim Stanley Robinson, Robert Silverberg, a book of Art Deco posters which fits in nowhere else.

Science Fiction Hardbacks (iii)

On another shelf entirely, standing next to the above. This contains books by my not so secret SF vice, Harry Turtledove, plus one Gene Wolfe, among others. Above, on its side, is a book containing illustrated Bernie Taupin lyrics for early Elton John songs:-

Science Fiction Hardbacks (iv)

Drowntide by Sydney J van Scyoc

Futura, 1987, 222 p.

Drowntide cover

Keiris is the scion of a family/clan, of Adenyo stock, which has the genetic ability to span (communicate telepathically) with sea creatures known as mams. The ordinary people of his society are Nethlor who accepted the Adenyo after their lands were drowned following a volcanic eruption. When Kieris’s sister Nandyris fails to return from a sailing expedition he appears to be the only heir to his mother’s calling – yet he has not manifested any capability in it. In the aftermath his mother acknowledges her powers are fading, reveals to him that he had a twin sister whose father had taken her away very shortly after the birth and charges Keiris with the duty of setting out to find them both and bring his sister back.

This planet has two moons, whose celestial wanderings lead periodically to a period called drowntide when the land to which Keiris travels is subject to daily inundation. In his journey through the islands at the end of the land the book has similarities to Kim Stanley Robinson’s A Short, Sharp Shock (which this novel predates.) Keiris eventually meets the tide folk, where his father is a sort of headman, and his sister – who has the hallmarks of another called race, the rermadken. In following the tide folk’s yearly pilgrimage Keiris develops a spanner’s voice and we discover from their folk tales that all these varieties of human originated from, and left, a poisoned Earth a long, long time ago.

This novel still stands up reasonably well thirty-plus years after its first publication. The cover doesn’t though.

Pedant’s corner:- Nandyris’ (Nandyris’s. Many of the names in this book end in “is” eg Tardis. Every one of their possessives was rendered is’ rather than is’s, ditto Harridys’,) “you care more for your own affairs then for our heritage” (than for our heritage.) “What shore had then chosen?” (What shore had they chosen?) “It gave into” (usually it’s “it gave onto”,) “on an unchartered beach” (uncharted,) “a very young women” (a very young woman,) patienty (patiently,) compell (compel,) “on nights when its warm” (when it’s warm.)

Hugo Award Nominations

As on the Locus website where the full list of nominees can be found. There’s a lot of “the usual suspects” here:-

Best Novel

The Stone Sky, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Six Wakes, Mur Lafferty (Orbit US)
Provenance, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Raven Stratagem, Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris US; Solaris UK)
New York 2140, Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Collapsing Empire, John Scalzi (Tor US; Tor UK)

Best Novella

River of Teeth, Sarah Gailey (Tor.com Publishing)
Down Among the Sticks and Bones, Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
Binti: Home, Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com Publishing)
“And Then There Were (N-One)”, Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny 3-4/17)
All Systems Red, Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing)
The Black Tides of Heaven, JY Yang (Tor.com Publishing)

Best Novelette

“Children of Thorns, Children of Water”, Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny 7-8/17)
“Extracurricular Activities”, Yoon Ha Lee (Tor.com 2/15/17)
“The Secret Life of Bots”, Suzanne Palmer (Clarkesworld 9/17)
“Wind Will Rove”, Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s 9-10/17)
“A Series of Steaks”, Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Clarkesworld 1/17)
“Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time”, K.M. Szpara (Uncanny 5-6/17)

Best Short Story

“The Martian Obelisk”, Linda Nagata (Tor.com 7/19/17)
“Fandom for Robots”, Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Uncanny 9-10/17)
“Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience™”, Rebecca Roanhorse (Apex 8/17)
“Sun, Moon, Dust”, Ursula Vernon (Uncanny 5-6/17)
“Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand”, Fran Wilde (Uncanny 9-10/17)
“Carnival Nine”, Caroline M. Yoachim (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 5/17)

I’ve read two of the novels and will read the Jemisin at some point. Not so much the shorter fiction.

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Orbit, 2017, 619 p.

 New York 2140 cover

Most Science Fiction deals with Physics or Biology, sometimes Chemistry, and not infrequently societal development. It rarely treats with Economics.

In New York 2140 Robinson explicitly considers that dismal science. I was going to say economics with the emphasis on the con. A con in two senses. It isn’t a science – it’s not falsifiable; or at least its adherents do not alter their models when faced with contrary evidence – and its assumptions are unrealistic (at the very least too simplistic.)

In Robinson’s scenario sea level has risen fifty feet after two great pulses of Antarctic ice melting, The lower lying parts of New York (along with many other coastal cities; though Robinson is not much concerned with them as his main readership will not be) have been submerged. Skyscrapers rear out of the water like the stumps of piers. Nevertheless people still live in the intertidal area – a diamond-like polymer waterproofs internal and external surfaces as much as possible though buildings more susceptible to rotting occasionally “melt” back into the water/silt. The city’s thoroughfares are now canals – a SuperVenice. Walkways suspended above the waters allow passage between buildings without taking to the waves.

Robinsons hangs his story on the inhabitants of the Met Life building and some of those who come in contact with them. Each succeeding section adopts the viewpoint of one or other of two computer coders called Mutt and Jeff (surnames Rosen and Muttchopf); Police Inspector Gen Octaviasdottir; a hedge fund manager called Franklin; the building’s main caretaker, Vlade; an unnamed citizen, who provides Robinson with the opportunity to dump information and history at will; Amelia Black, a broadcaster to the cloud from her airship Assisted Migration and whose principal attraction to her viewers seems to be shedding her clothes; building representative Charlotte Armstrong; and Stefan and Roberto, two orphan adventurers searching the waters for archaeological remains under the guidance of a Mr Hexter.

There are some nice touches such as the description of our species, with regard to its (lack of) response to warnings of global warming, as Homo sapiens oblivious and references like, “ This moment of the storm,” to delight the SF aficionados plus the nickname Amelia Errhard bestowed on Black due to her facility to make mistakes.

The initial plot seems to be about an offer to the inhabitants of the Met to take it over while at the same time subjecting the building to attack. The main set piece of the book is the huge hurricane that hits New York bringing down lots of buildings and the wider financial system. (Robinson’s main target here is economics after all, rather than global warming.)

Spoiler alert.

Robinson suggests that in the aftermath of this crash (the third big one in his timeline) government will finally take on the bankers and bend them to its will/the benefit of the people. He also posits the adoption by the US of a universal health care system. Now that really is Science Fiction.

Pedant’s corner:- no start quote when speech begins a chapter, squoze (for squeezed. Is squoze a USianism?) compos mentos (it’s compos mentis, but ut may have been the character misspelling for effect,) sordiditties (sordidities,) “have look around” (have a look around,) “and shined his lamp” (shone,) Friederichschafen (Friedeichshafen?) “they remain costumed as executives or baristas or USA casuals but always in costume” (costumed in costume? Hmmm,) “use to be” (used to be,) maw (a maw is not an opening, it’s a stomach!) “of saying You look like you would be good” … “aimed a look at Amelia, like, Don’t encourage him” (why omit the quotation marks?) “Their offices were a kid of shabby decrepit office located at” (offices…office within 7 words,) “Homo sapiens oblivious” (Homo Sapiens oblivious,) “if worse came to worst” (I know that formulation is more logical but I’ve always known the phrase as “if the worst came to the worst”,) “he had never been a wind over a hundred” (in a wind,) “avuncular, meaning “unclelike” in Latin” (no, avuncular means unclelike in English; it’s derived from the Latin for uncle.) “So she was getting reading to go to dinner” (ready to go to dinner,) “‘raft buildings on it to study it’” (to steady it.)

A Short, Sharp Shock by Kim Stanley Robinson

Bantam, 1996, 185 p.

A Short, Sharp Shock cover

A man comes to in a sea, pounded by raging surf. He tries to stop himself drowning and eventually makes it to shore along with a woman he calls the swimmer. Apart from vague stirrings he cannot remember his previous existence. The world he and she find themselves on is an odd one, mostly sea, with one long line of mountains, the spine, round its equator. There are strange humanoid inhabitants, some with trees growing out of their shoulders, others with faces where their eyes should be, still more use shells as their homes, shifting from one to the next like crabs.

The main bulk of the book is taken up with a journey along the spine to escape the brutal spine kings. Along the way the man loses touch with the woman several times before regaining contact, and hears the lores and formation stories of the various peoples he encounters. In part this is reminiscent of the journey across Mars in (as I recall) the second of Robinson’s Mars trilogy which seemed to me when I read it to be there solely to show off his research but here has more of a justification. (I noted Paul Kincaid commenting on this Robinson trait of journey describing in his review of New York 2140 in Interzone 270.)

There is one break in the spine of this strange world, traversable by a causeway at low tide, guided by the latest in a long line of custodians called Birsay. (At this point I wondered if Robinson has been to Orkney.) In the book this gap in the mountain range is called the brough. Brough actually means island but we can forgive the author this slight misuse. The trip over takes two tides with a dangerous stop in the middle where kelp bladders tied to anchors in the rock allow travellers to avoid being swept away by the currents of the rising tide. Our intrepid travellers of course have to hit it on a bad day.

The book is preoccupied with mirrors. One of the things our traveller, who has decided to call himself Thel, is told is that, “Through mirrors we see things right way round at last,” and he muses on the possibility of a landscape in reverse. On helping a group of tree-people escape from the spine kings one of them delays to rescue a mirror. Some time later Thel is pushed through the mirror into an altered spined world before finding his way back.

This is not major Robinson. The story is not much more than a novella and each chapter starts on an odd numbered page so there is sometimes a complete blank page between them. The book is further bulked out by its last 14 pages containing a “preview” of Robinson’s Blue Mars. This is an off-putting practice I hope publishers have now discontinued.

Pedant’s corner:- “the north side grew less steep, laying out until the peninsula was wider than ever” (lying out,) “some laying over the ridge” (lying,) “cursing one another under their breath” (breaths,) sunk (sank,) “ate the muscles” (mussels, I think,) miniscule (minuscule,) “and bid him eat” (bade,) “all was not peaceful” (not all was peaceful.)

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Orbit, 2015, 477 p.

 Aurora cover

This is Robinson’s take on the generation starship novel, wherein he makes it clear what a risky and unlikely undertaking such an adventure would be. The ship contains a microcosm of Earth habitats spread through various biomes in an attempt to provide the future colonists with the wherewithal to survive on landfall and subsequently thrive.

We begin with the generation born just before arrival at the destination (Tau Ceti). The viewpoint is that of Freya, a seemingly cognitively impaired child (but really only mathematically) and whose deficiencies are symptomatic of the ship’s growing imbalances. Her mother Devi is the ship’s troubleshooter, interrogating and solving problems as they arise but increasingly frustrated at the finite nature of her resources.

The book has an odd structure, topped and tailed by sections focusing on Freya but with the five interior sections ranging more widely. The occasional odd word choice and sentence structure are clarified when it becomes obvious that the (five section long) middle part of the book is being narrated by the ship’s quantum computer AI. Comments such as, “How to decide how to sequence information in a narrative account? … sentences linear, reality synchronous. Devise a prioritizing algorithm, if possible,” give some of the flavour here.

The target world, Aurora whose name is given also to the ship, orbits gas giant Planet E. The colonists begin to set about making it habitable – a very long-term project – but a setback when one is injured, her sealed suit punctured, which leads to the death of not only her but also those with whom she shared the tented living space they’d set up, means abandonment. Those who had remained on the ship are evenly split between “stayers” – willing to try another candidate moon in the system – and “backers” – those who want to return to Earth. Conflict ensues – a rather depressing authorial conclusion here; you might have thought people would avoid that in such a situation. The novel then follows the backers on their long trip home alleviated by the somewhat fortuitous (for Robinson’s purposes; deus ex machina thy name is god) development of hibernation technology on Earth (in radio contact with the colonists throughout) in the interim.

Many passages are given over to Ship pondering its liability to succumb to recursive programmes and what is known as the halting problem plus other philosophical conundrums to do with language and existence, including a discourse on metaphor and numerous references to the presence of metaphors when they occur in the narrative thereafter. All of which is interesting enough at an abstract level but is no more than filler. Yet Robinson appears more interested in this and in the nuts and bolts of interstellar travel, its inevitable flaws, its lack of controllability, than in any of the humans he is depicting.

Some have been intrigued by the proposition that the most interesting character in the book is an AI. While that is true it is only because the so-called humans are little more than ciphers. Moreover it seemed at one point that the whole thing was devised solely to allow Robinson to make a pun on the phrase “halting problem”. Ship’s late conclusion that, “Love gives meaning,” is not borne out by any of the preceding prose.

File under “worthy, but no more”.

Pedant’s corner:- “a group of people ascend (a group ascends,) a group are packed (is,) ten g’s (an abbreviation subsumes its plural; so, ten g – multiple instances of g’s but towards the end of the book only g was used,) 1.28 deaths for every 100,000 births (that ratio would surely lead to a very rapid overpopulation of the ship and it is a plot point that human fertility is rigidly controlled,) a missing question mark, “and diffuse nebula” (nebulae,) flatted to white (what’s wrong with flattened?) “north of the Aurora’s equator” (no “the”,) “like Terran deltas [origin of phrase delta v?]” (a misdirection by Robinson – in the guise of the ship’s AI – as he must surely know that the “v” in “delta v” stands for velocity,) a series … were held (a series was held,) the median times…. was (the median time… was,) “‘Bacteria exposed to vacuum doesn’t grow very fast’” (OK it was dialogue but bacteria is plural; so, don’t grow very fast,) so that maybe (so that may be,) helmiths (helminths,) protozoa and amoeba (ameobae,) ambiance (ambience,) 2mankind … increased their destructiveness” (its,) “sent up to Tau Ceti” (sent us,) “she scoops up little sand crabs that makes her cry ‘Eek’” (make. )

Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts

Gollancz, 2010, 330 p

Yellow Blue Tibia cover

Emblazoned across this book’s cover is ‘Should have won the 2009 Booker Prize’ – Kim Stanley Robinson. Rather a large claim to make and considering the novel spends some time mentioning and discussing Science Fiction and the existence or not of aliens – an automatic disbarment one would have thought – a forlornly hopeful one at best. (I note a certain amount of possible mutual back-scratching going on here as Roberts praised Robinson’s latest novel in his recent Guardian review.)

Yellow Blue Tibia, unusually for a piece of Western SF, is set entirely in the Soviet Union and starts when a group of Soviet SF writers is invited to meet comrade Stalin and asked to come up with a scenario of alien invasion to provide an enemy for the state to rally the people against. Their concept of radiation aliens becomes fleshed out but then they are told to forget the whole thing and never mention it again to anyone. Narrator Konstantin Skvorecky, former SF writer and veteran of the Great Patriotic War, recalls this from the perspective of the glasnost and perestroika era of 1986 when he once again meets a member of that original group, Ivan Frenkel, and weird things begin to happen.

The novel contains several nods to works of SF, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy etc, and frequent discussions of the form, ‘the worlds created by a science fictional writer do not deny the real world; they antithesise it!’
But what are we to make of this exchange?
“‘Communism is science fiction.’
‘And vice versa.’
‘I can think of many American writers of science fiction who would be insulted to think so.’
‘Perhaps they do not fully understand the genre in which they are working.’”

Frenkel is attempting to convince Skvorecky that UFOs are real, are in effect all around us, that in accordance with the scenario dreamed up by Stalin’s conclave of SF writers an alien invasion is under way. Skvorecky is initially sceptical, “‘Marx called religion the opium of the people… But at least opium is a high-class drug. UFO religion? That’s the methylated spirits of the people. It’s the home-still beetroot-alcohol of the people.’” To help persuade him Frenkel has Skvorecky meet two US Scientologists, James Tilly Coyne, and Nora Dorman – with whom Skvorecky falls in love mainly, it seems, because she is well-proportioned. In the end, though, Skvorecky tells us, “There are no secrets in this book… it is drawing your attention to that which is hidden in plain view all the time.”

Supposedly comedic interludes are provided by Saltykov – a taxi driver who has a condition, an extreme form of Asperger’s syndrome – and cannot bear contact with another man. He continually harps on about this and repeatedly says, ‘Do not talk to the driver. It’s a distraction.’ Roberts making one of Saltykov’s utterances, ‘I like to keep my engine clean. It’s a clean machine,’ is, though, certainly an authorial allusion to Penny Lane. Then we have the rather plodding KGB heavy, Trofim, who dogs Skvorecky more or less throughout.

This is the first time on reading Roberts that he has made me laugh. This came during an exchange in Chernobyl’s Reactor 4 (the aliens are apparently intending to blow this up, Skvorecky to find the bomb) when Trofim says, “It’s fallen in the water!”. But then I suppose, strictly speaking, since it’s a Goon Show quote (“He’s fallen in the water” – audio sample here, towards the bottom of the page) it was actually Spike Milligan making me laugh.

Skvorecky leads a charmed life, surviving many threatening situations, not least with Trofim. The UFO hypothesis suggests his survival is due to the superposition of states, of what Roberts dubs realitylines.

So why Yellow Blue Tibia? Apparently “yellow, blue, tibia” approximates to a phonetic declaration of “I love you” in Russian, a phrase which Skvorecky teaches to Dora. Unfortunately the book states that the tibia is a bone in the arm. The tibia is actually in the leg, along with the femur and the fibia; the bones of the arm are the humerus, the radius and the ulna. This is a pretty egregious mistake to make when the word tibia is in your book’s title.

It is undeniably all very cleverly done but again there is that distancing feeling attached to Roberts’s writing. Skvorecky claims to be in love with Dora but as a reader I couldn’t really feel it.

Apart from that could Yellow Blue Tibia have won the 2009 Booker Prize? Given the literary world’s prejudices – even though some of its denizens have taken to appropriating the tropes of the genre – never.

And should it have? In a word, no. Look at the short list.

Pedant’s corner:- for you next appointment (your,) paleoarcheological (palaeoarchaeological,) a stigmata (stigmata is plural, the singular is stigma,) a missing opening quote mark, sat (seated, or sitting,) “the spindle-wheels of the cassette again began turning again” (only one “again” required here,) span (spun – which appeared later,) “covered with the chocolate brown patches” (these patches had not previously been mentioned; so “covered with chocolate brown patches”,) a missing full stop at the end of a piece of dialogue, “we spent out energies” (our energies,) sprung (sprang.) “‘What am I suppose to do now?’” (supposed,) liquorish (liquorice. This is the second time I have seen liquorish for liquorice in a Roberts book. Does he really believe liquorish is the correct spelling?) “‘She was the middle of’” (in the middle of,) cesium (caesium, please,) trunk (of a car; previously “boot” had been used,) “‘Use you fucking head.’” (your,) “The air around me was less atmosphere and more immersion, or preparation was of a multiple spectral shift.” (????) “when accounts … becomes more frequent” (become. )

The Thing Itself by Adam Roberts

Gollancz, 2015, 333 p

The Thing Itself cover

I’ve read quite a few novels by Roberts now and there was always – New Model Army perhaps excepted – something lacking about them which nagged a little but what exactly that something was hadn’t crystallised till partway through this one when he alluded to a famous Joseph Conrad phrase. Then it struck me. He was telling the reader what to feel. But, and this is the point, he hadn’t managed to evoke that feeling in me. It was all too distanced, too formalised, not emotionally compelling. Admittedly this novel is one of Roberts’s more abstruse efforts, being an attempt to render Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason into fictional form, to speculate on the Dring an sich, the world as it is – as opposed to the one we perceive through our senses.

It may be Roberts has an inkling of this himself as he has posted about the novel’s lack of award nominations or indeed much notice within the SF community and has said he intends in future to produce fiction that is less challenging to the reader. He may be slightly off-beam there. It’s not the challenge that niggled me, it’s the lack of connection. I still haven’t got round to Roberts’s Yellow Blue Tibia from 2009 (which Kim Stanley Ronbinson opined ought to have won the Booker Prize that year.) It’ll be interesting to read it with this thought in mind.

As to the plot here, Charles Gardner and Roy Curtius are on an Antarctic research base in 1986 when something weird happens. The effects of this are to dog Gardner for the rest of his life as he becomes gradually less employable before he is finally embroiled into a (deniable) government attempt to render Curtius and a recently evolved AI named Peta harmless. Breakthrough into the Dring an sich is way too dangerous to allow uncontrolled access. As it is, ripples backward and forward through time from the events of Gardner’s life have already occurred.

Gardner’s story chapters are alternated with others with settings ranging from Mayence (Mainz) in 1900 to a future time war via 19th century Gibraltar (where the rock changes its dimensions every time a couple has sex,) the late 1690s, a list of 89 numbered paragraphs and the days of Kant’s dotage.

With many allusions – the novel’s first sentence, “The beginning was the letter” suggests the first sentence of the Gospel of John, there is a Joycean section, a chapter in Restoration style, that reworking of Kant’s last days – the novel is undeniably dense; but it is not difficult to read. Emotionally, though, it is scanty.

There is a lot to admire in Roberts’s work, it is certainly impressive; but I suspect it is much more difficult to love it.

Pedant’s corner:- “Say what?” (I don’t recall people using this formulation in 1986,) sprung (sprang,) scilla (cilia made more sense,) protruberances (protuberances,) nineties and naughties (noughties, but then again it may have been a sexual pun,) “I was in the verge of something” (on the verge is more usual,) “not eager to say” (to stay.) “And her she held up a single finger,” (And here,) my stomach clenches sharply (all the other verbs here were past tense so; clenched.) “Spaces is,” (Space,) “the torn stitched removed” (stitch,) shuggle (this Scots word is usually spelled shoogle) another Scotticism was “fair” as an amplifier, as in, he fair shrieked. “The sole window right beside the door I had just come in through, and so I took a look outside.” (??) “didn’t phase the clerk” (faze,) Curtus (Curtius,) “who can do as the please” (as they please,) meters (metres, but this was in a future scenario along with the spelling vodka,) Valzha (spelled twice this way, otherwise Valzah,) sphereoids (spheroids,) “in which both paries were male” (parties,) he is sat (seated.,) appeared drunken (appeared drunk, surely?)

Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds

Gollancz, 2012, 506 p.

Blue Remembered Earth cover

Global warming and sea level rises have altered the political landscape of Earth drastically. Africa is bounded by walls to keep out the sea and has become a global power house. People in this future have internal augmentation for long distance information and communication. Very few environments are beyond the reach of this Surveilled World, run by the Mechanism, which by overseeing everyone’s implanted augmentation prevents crimes occurring. Brother and sister Geoffrey and Sunday Akinya are two of the grandchildren of Eunice, the founder of the prominent industrial company Akinya Space, but are detached from this family enterprise; cousins Hector and Lucas are very much involved in its running.

Geoffrey is using aug to study elephants in the Amboseli region of Africa, Sunday is an artist in the Descrutinised Zone, an area of the Moon where, for privacy reasons, the Mechanism doesn’t operate. When Eunice dies both Geoffrey and Sunday are drawn into a search for something she may have left behind which Hector and Lucas fear may impact badly on the company’s fortunes.

The action roams from the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro to the Moon, under the Indian Ocean in the realm of the United Aquatic Nations, on to Phobos, then Mars, out to the Kuiper Belt and back. An array of instruments known as the Ocular, spanning vast areas of the Oort Cloud, has allowed imaging of extraterrestrial planets at high resolution and detection of a structure known as the Mandala on Sixty-one Virginis-f.

In this vision of a future where humanity is scattered over the Solar System Blue Remembered Earth is reminiscent of Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312. That novel, though, was to a large extent plotless, and its hero was really the Solar System. Blue Remembered Earth’s plot is intricately and cleverly meshed – like whatever passes for clockwork these digital days. And therein lies a problem. The characters are drawn all over the system by the plot’s exigencies. It is over-engineered, with complications that inspire “hold on a minute” moments. Its heroine is in effect Eunice, and she never makes an appearance except by way of machines imprinted with versions of her personality.

It’s still good SF though.

Pedant’s corner: overlaying for overlying. There was also a scene set on Mars where an abandoned Russian site on Mars had a faded hammer and sickle flag and Reynolds also mentions a former Soviet submarine. Is he still lost somewhere in the Cold War?

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