This is my third Alastair Reynolds novel. The other two I listened to were narrated by John Lee. He's okay, but not one of my favorites. However, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is a narrator I will be looking out for in the future. He's phenomenal. There's an epilogue that's told in first-person plural where the narrator mixes the voices of the characters who are telling that part of the story. It sounds so interesting and I can't imagine any other narrator who could pull it off so well. It could have ended up being either confusing or hokey, but it was neither.
As for the story, I thought it was very good. It's not like the other Alastair Reynolds books I've listened to, but it's good on its own terms. There were a couple of times when I wanted to slap the characters and tell them to think a bit harder. It took quite a while for them to realize that Eunice was sending them on a treasure hunt. It wasn't the most original story, and it did have some fairly predictable moments, but it was very well done.
Good story, the simplistic " Ethnic Type Music" is distracting and annoying. could have done better without it.
I've read most of what Allistair Reynolds has published...some more than once.
I've rated him as one of the best hard core SF writers ever. His major characters are often "different". Heroes and villains are as likely to be female as male with various
degrees of sex, color, species differences and artifacts often added on. Even as truly different as some of his main characters were, I have never before gotten the impression that he was forcing them into being politically correct stereotypes. That is the impression I get in this novel.
The good guys, male and female, (almost too good to be true, in some cases) are African and black sounding, or clearly homosexual with contemporary nilistic outlooks while the bad guys are made to sound like mostly white, male Afrikaners and and are comletely contemptible, evil, money grubbers. The heroic types seem motivated only by a one dimensional need to do "good" (as defined by contemporary standards like ...save the elephants...for instance).
Of course, in their quest to do these good deeds, the author does not bind them to
to any special respect for preexisting norms and rules that get in their way, except those imposed by the villains. Both sides are also very rich, which seems to be, in a almost
contradictory fashion, a perfectly acceptable reason to allow them to do what they please.
As I've said, I can enjoy heroes and villains, any sex, any color, any background...if
the writer can make me believe that they are real "human beings" even if that
isn't exactly what they are. Reynold's has done that very thing with pigs, among a number of other not so human creatures, in some of his other works. Their human attributes...good and bad and neither...seemed not only richly complex but to be natural parts of their nature.
The problem with this novel for me is that the characters in these pages are caricatures of politically correct stereotypes. That makes it impossible to care about
what they seem to care about. And what they care about, of course, drives the whole story. John Lee does a good job with the narration, as usual.
Overall, this is not a Reynold's novel I would consider reading a second time.
I would have to strongly disagree with the previous reviewer. I have read all published Al Reynolds that you can hold of easily Stateside, except for Terminal World, which is coming up on my reading list soon. I can say with certainty that the last few Reynolds books have fallen downhill, especially since Century Rain. This definitely cannot compare to his Revelation Space series, and I would highly recommend his best works as House of Suns, Redemption Ark and Chasm City. But unless you're a die-hard fan who has to read EVERYTHING he writes, I would suggest you skip is one.
I honestly am not quite sure why this book was written. There is nothing especially new here, unless you count the fact that the protagonist is African. Unless that's what you've been waiting to read for years, this book is just plain boring. I'm sorry, but I have been reading sci if long enough that descriptions of society on Mars, Phobos and the Moon, no matter how imaginative, just don't keep me riveted in and of themselves. For me, it's all about characters and plot.
Now, certainly the characters feel real to me. Kudos to Reynolds for creating a mostly black African dramatis personae, and seeing as he is both very white and very British, I think he did a great job making them realistic (as far as I can tell, anyway). However, that said, the characters don't really DO much of anything. The main character, as we well know from the description, just wants to keep studying elephants (and map his own brain patterns with that of elephants for some reason). Unfortunately that does NOT make an interesting story! I couldn't care less about imagining what a human looks like through an elephant's eyes. A character needs to DO something in order for us to have a story, and they should not just be reacting to outside forces all the time.
Then you have a society which is essentially utopic, where crime is virtually nonexistent and you cannot even throw a punch at someone without machines in your head intervening and your getting arrested. So needless to say there isn't a lot of action.
Another disappointing and completely unneeded element were the anti-Christian elements in this book. I don't know if Reynolds is atheist, agnostic, or anything else. But I don't read scifi to get bashed over the head with evolutionary theory and depressing philosophical arguments on the ultimate uselessness of all things. When one of the main characters laughs thinking that "she realized she was just a really smart monkey... A smart monkey who was flying to another planet in a spaceship" I just wanted to gag. Not very tactful, Al. He keeps mentioning this "smart monkey" concept too. For me, if that's all we are, then what is the point of exploring space, expanding to the stars, and preserving the human race? Such a future certainly wouldn't seem uplifting or positive at all, if everything is utterly useless and meaningless...
Anyway, the plot is kind of a treasure hunt from place to place, with a lot of description of different societies that live in the different places we visit. Most of this is just filler material. I didn't find it that interesting. I actually listened to this book at 3x speed using the Audible app just to get through it faster.
Also, if you care about such things, let me say that this book could have been rated a comfortable "PG" for all scifi fans, except for the repeated uses of the F-word. There is almost no swearing in this book besides the F-Word, which is used frequently by just about everyone, often in strange places where you would normally expect a different kind of curse word, but you get the F-word instead. Bon appetit.
The ending of the book certainly makes it feel like a standalone, which I hope is the case. It feels pretty anticlimactic when compared to Reynolds' other works.
Finally a note about the narrator. His voice matches the main characters well. He is clearly of African descent and has a pleasant British accent. However, this almost feels like it could be the first book he ever narrated. He doesn't seem able to do any accents other than that one. The books should have had multiple narrators, because the characters end up sounding very similar and hard to differentiate. Because of this I imagined every single character being African. His American accent was painfully off, and he performed one character, who is some kind of a whale, so deep and slowly that it is extremely difficult to understand what he is saying. The narration definitely detracts from the story. I really miss John Lee.
For someone who has been a big Reynolds fan in the past, I am sorely disappointed in this latest offering and if it does turn out to be a trilogy I probably will not be reading the rest of this series, which I guess means I won't be reading any new Reynolds for a long time.
A Tool in the shed
Really enjoyed the performance. The story took a little while to get into, but it slowly warmed up. I look forward to the next book.
Six hours in, there's a scene that struck me as a perfect metaphor. Robots are fighting, but they are so colossally slow, that nothing appears to be happening. The characters have to drug and wire their brains to make it seem interesting. The book is well written with a variety of characters, but they're not doing anything of import and there's nothing at stake. It might just be a book about some people in the future puttering around, but that's not something I'm willing to give more time.
the story lacks direction. many great ideas that didn't fit well. very boring characters. I wasn't even interested until the very end when I could see the whole picture. At that point I'm usually blown away by Al's work. Not this time.
If you ask me, I'll probably tell you. If you don't want to know, don't ask. If you ask anyway, that's where the 1% non-truthful comes in.
At the beginning of this book, the subject matter and the writing reminded me why I fell in love with science fiction and have remained a staunch fan. I was disappointed as the book progressed and progressed and progressed some more, for all that listening really didn't, I feel bring resolution to the story. that and it was so long, that though I continued to the end, I had quite lost interest about three-quarters of the way through. I think perhaps this would have been a better read than it was a listen. And in no way should this be laid at the feet of Kobna Holdbrook-Smith. His narration was stellar as usual. In fact, that's why I got this book in the first place. Holdbrook-Smith was the narrator.
As stated by previous reviewers, this story needed a rolling start to turn the engine over. Once started, however, this story is classic Alistair Reynolds. Colorful prose, excellent character development, and a good story to boot. You won't be sorry when you get this title.