Not only are Campion and Purslane late for their 30-second reunion but they have also brought along an amnesiac golden robot for a guest. But the wayward shatterlings get more than the scolding they expect: they face the discovery that someone has a very serious grudge against the Gentian line, and there is a very real possibility of traitors in their midst. The surviving shatterlings have to dodge exotic weapons while they regroup to try to solve the mystery of who is persecuting them and why---before their ancient line is wiped out of existence forever.
©2008 Alastair Reynolds; (P)2009 Tantor
On Audible since the late 1990s, mostly science fiction, fantasy, history & science. I rarely review 1-2 star books that I can't get through
Alastair Reynolds is one of the few great writers of hard science fiction space operas working today (Vernor Vinge and Charlie Stross are others). A key premise of the book is that faster-than-light travel is just as impossible in the future as it seems today, so the characters in the novel maintain a unique existence over millions of years by traveling at relativistic speeds and placing themselves in long-term suspended animation. The result explores one of Reynold's favorite topics: Deep Time, where trips between stars take thousands of years and civilizations rise and fall as the characters complete 100,000 year circuits of the galaxy.
This serves as context for a slow-building, but fascinating tale, for which the less said, the better for you, as a listener. It takes a long time to realize the central conflict, with much action on the way, but the pieces come together satisfyingly.
The common criticism on Audible seems to be that the book is "too long" or that the ending is unsatisfying. I disagree on both counts: the ending is remarkably good, and the length seems perfect, especially for epic science fiction. If you like your science fiction hard, this is a great choice.
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
3.5 stars. This is hard sci-fi space opera in the same wheelhouse as the works of Iain M. Banks or Peter Hamilton, featuring uber-advanced cultures that operate on a galactic scale in a distant future. While my last Reynolds (Revelation Space) experience left me a bit "meh", I enjoyed this one, which calls to mind the high points of the two aforementioned authors.
The story takes place millions of years in the future, and concerns two mostly-human "shatterlings", who are part of an extended family engineered from the genetic stock of one single, long-ago ancestor. The shatterlings roam the vastness of space (at less than the speed of light), doing various good deeds and observing the rise and fall of civilizations, their own lives prolonged by their ability to go into stasis for long periods of time. Every 200,000 years or so, though, the members of the line come together for a grand reunion, to party, swap stories, and share what they've learned. Not a bad setup at all.
The two protagonists, Campion and Purslane, are on their way to just such a reunion when they get sidetracked and acquire a new passenger, a golden robot named Hesperus (whose persona harkens back to Asimov’s classic robots). Their lateness permits them to escape a massacre of the gathered, which leaves few survivors. From there, the novel becomes a sort of cerebral thriller in space, the protagonists working to solve the mystery of who wants to wipe out their line, while playing cat-and-mouse with various enemies and trying to understand certain strange beings. There’s also a thread concerning the line founder, her experiences in a fantasy virtual reality world that begins to take over her mind, and what motivated her to “shatter” herself.
This brand of science fiction tends to be heavier on science, ideas, and the gears of the plot than it is on storytelling, psychological depth, or thematic richness, and, though there are a few exceptions (Dune, Hyperion, and A Fire Upon the Deep come to mind), House of Suns isn’t one of them. It’s a shame that Reynolds didn’t go deeper with his premise and explore his protagonists’ inner lives with all those millions of years passing around them. Also, some developments seemed a little unbelievable, owing to the common sci-fi problem of “if they’re advanced enough to do X, can’t they do Y?” There’s a lot of hand-waving where technology is concerned. (WTF is a homunculus weapon? Who knows.)
But if you enjoy geeking out on wormholes, machine sentience, nanotechnology, Matrix-esque virtual realities, relativistic time dilation, and the possibility of godlike higher beings lurking behind the universe, and want to see an author spin a story from these things, House of Suns is smart, well-executed hard sci-fi. I also found the characters more likable than those of Revelation Space. While I prefer my science fiction to be a little more on the literary side, some readers will appreciate a novel that dispenses of any such pretensions and gives us the spaceships and robots straight-up.
The audiobook production is fairly good, though it left a few things to be desired. On one hand, John Lee has the control to read all the astrobabble in the story without being cheesy; on the other, his protagonists sound pretty similar. It took me a little while to realize that there were two main points of view, though who’s speaking becomes obvious once you grasp the contextual hints.
I haven’t read enough of Reynolds’s other books to make a comparison, but I think this is a perfectly good starting point if you want to see what the buzz is about.
After listening to three other Alastair Reynolds books I'd have to say I enjoyed this one the most. I was a bit skeptical about the idea of shatterlings when I read the summary before listening and wondered if the idea was too complex to support a good story line. It was a bit confusing at first, but then came together very nicely. It really made me think about the passage of deep time. I also think narrator John Lee does a great job.
I can find a book to love in any genre -- a beautifully written classic, an interesting mystery or sci-fi, a trashy romance. Bring it!
STORY - House of Suns is a strange story, but I enjoyed it very much. I cannot compare it to any other space travel story or movie I have experienced. It is in a category of its own, in my opinion. The time frame is millions of years in the future and the story scans many, many generations. It is not about fighting aliens or defending against an attack but, rather, is a mystery which the main characters are trying to solve by traveling to distant worlds. There are alien creatures and things that happen which are extremely imaginative and described with fascinating detail, thus my title of Space Travel on Steroids.
While this is a long book, I didn't find it to be excessive. There was perhaps about one hour of prisoner interrogation and a funeral which could have been shorter, but it was bearable. (I actually increased narrator speed to 1.5 during that portion).
NARRATION - The narrator doesn't change voices much to distinguish between the main characters Purslane and Campion, but that makes sense once you understand their origination. The story is told from both their perspectives alternately so you will need to pay attention to which of them is speaking, but it is not difficult. The narrator has somewhat of a robotic or emotionless way of speaking which I think fits the story well, but you might want to listen to the preview first.
OVERALL - I would recommend this story to anyone who enjoys space travel sci-fi, but it might not be for everyone. It is very, very "far out."
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
God-like human clones ("shatterlings"), mysterious machine people, countless galactic meta-civilizations rising and falling ("turnover"), 200,000 year reunions, memory and data "troves" millions of years old, near-speed of light interstellar travel in near-sentient spaceships, macro wars and micro wars, star-dams and wormholes, homunculus weapons and gamma canons, an addicting sinister fantasy "game," and more, all playing key roles in Alastair Reynolds' House of Suns, his page-turning space opera story of charming incestuous romance, Byzantine intrigue, appalling treachery, ferocious revenge, desperate pursuit, and fitting karma. Reynolds' first-person narrators, Abigail, Purslane, and Campion, are appealing, his machine person Hesperus charismatic. Neat themes about memory (repressed, recovered, or shared) and the curiosity, bravery, cruelty, glory, and futility of human nature and endeavor. An appropriate climax and a satisfying resolution.
John Lee's reading of the novel is excellent, clear and nuanced and savory, with effective use of different pitches and accents (to make it easier to differentiate the various cloned Shatterlings and machine people from each other). Some listeners have said that it is not easy to tell Campion and Purslane narrating their alternate chapters, but if you can't catch Lee's slightly more growly Campion and subtly more feminine Pursulane, you can just wait for one of them to say the other's name or keep in mind which one narrated the previous chapter, and it's not difficult to follow.
In conclusion, listening to Reynolds' novel read by Lee was by turns entertaining, awe-inspiring, humorous, exciting, thought-provoking, and moving.
Two great passions - dogs and books! Sci-fi/fantasy novels are my go-to favorites, but I love good writing across all genres.
House of Suns ReadMe (should have been included in the audiobook): This entire book is written First Person from three different POV's, Abigail Gentian in the 31st century before the shattering and Purslane and Campion, two of Abigail's 1000 clones (shatterlings), told 6 million years after the shattering. The book is presented in eight parts with an introduction to each part done from Abigail's time and POV and subsequent chapters within each part alternate between Purslane's and Campion's POV.
If you picked up the printed book, you would see the setup instantly - the book is not written to intentionally confuse - but it takes an hour or so to figure out what is going on in the audiobook because there is nothing to alert you to the shift in points of view. One paragraph to prevent a listener from an hour of confusion, but that was apparently just too much work for Tantor Audio - shame on them! And, I was also disappointed in John Lee. I listened to that man provide dozens of distinct voices for men and women both in 47 hours of the Count of Monte Cristo, but he provides almost NO differentiation between Abigail, Purslane, and Campion. (One girl/woman, one woman, and one man and they all sound like John Lee!) If you know how the book is organized (see ReadMe) this won't cause much trouble, but since the audio book producers didn't see fit to provide an introduction to help the listener I am completely baffled as to why John Lee couldn't have helped a bit with more character differentiation in his narration. As always, John Lee's voice is easy on the ears so if you just know what's going on, the narration is alright - just not as good as I know that man can do.
Climbing off my soapbox and getting to the good stuff - oh man, I LOVED this book. House of Suns has been in my wish list for ages, but I just couldn't get a sense of whether I would like this author so I put off trying this. However, after recently pickling my brain on too much candified sci-fi, I was really itching for some of the real thing and House of Suns is recommended by a couple of reviewers I've come to trust so I took the plunge. To me it reads sort of like Asimov with a liberal sprinkling of Neil Gaiman and Rod Serling. I would bet that if you tweak to the eerie, if you love the hair raising tingle of The Twilight Zone, you'll enjoy House of Suns.This is a cosmic mystery with a couple of "real-time" who-dunnit subplots along the way, peopled with wonderful characters, and just enough quantum physics to let the mind go with flow without too much math to slow down the plot. This story grabbed me from the beginning and never let go - the writing is great and the eerie tension of the plot is sustained until the very end. I thought the ending was PERFECT. You get a true conclusion with real poignancy and just a enough left unexplained that your mind can still ruminate over possible answers for many days after you finish. (Who was the real Abigail anyway?) The story doesn't need any additional chapters, but I would love to see a sequel because I would really enjoy further exploration of this universe in the company of the oh-so-personable shatterlings.
One last note, there are a couple of references in Reynolds writing to King Crimson songs, but the little Easter Egg that got to me the most I haven't seen mentioned in reviews. House of Suns is partially inspired by the story of Sarah Winchester. Because I have been to Winchester House, I suddenly recognized that story (which is fascinating) incorporated into this novel. Sarah Winchester has inspired a lot of authors, but I haven't seen her in sci-fi before - very cool.
If you like your sci-fi with light sabers and monsters, House of Suns might not be for you. But if you perk to the mysterious and eerie and can handle a few hours of not knowing who your friends are, you'll love House of Suns.
I value intelligent stories with characters I can relate to. I can appreciate good prose, but a captivating plot is way more important.
I was unprepared for the scope of the story in House of Suns. It is the most ambitious imagining of "deep time" that I've encountered. I would mark it on par with Iain Banks in terms of optimistic imaginings for humanities long-term future. But unlike Banks, Reynolds has created characters that are worth caring about, and a sense of drama that keeps you invested in the book.
This book was very smart, very imaginative, and very well constructed. It is one of the few modern sci-fi books that leaves me with no complaints.
The book is unapologetic in its slow unraveling. Several terms and vital bits of backstory are withheld for a long time, but not in an annoying way. It was nice to encounter an author who doesn't cheapen his book with ham-handed exposition.
My only complaint is narrator John Lee, who over-enunciates everything, and doesn't do much to add dramatic tension to the book. Every passage is read with the same level of enthusiasm. It isn't a monotone, but it also isn't full of personality.
Tell us about yourself!
this is a deeply enjoyable "hard science" space opera story.
Reynolds refuses to bend the rules of relativity, and so he writes around them, in some very delightful ways. the characters, who alternate in the chapters, are hundreds of thousands of years old and have seen it all. They have fantastic spaceships and modern technology, but all of it COULD happen, given humans getting techonologically advanced enough. Nifty stuff.
The ending does fall apart a bit, story wise. But I will say that the croissant breakfast towards the end has stuck in my mind.
Thickly written and completely textured with a (somewhat) romantic point of view/perspective (aka rose colored glasses). Very unusual storyline from a very competent writer. Interesting. Somehow, a tad disappointing at the end... but just a tad (I think I expected JUST a bit more from this author 'cause he's very good). BIGtime. Don't get me wrong: this IS a VERY intriguing author with unusual ideas.
I really enjoyed this book. The main problem was the narration --- the narrator (John Lee) did not do a good of making it clear when he switched between characters, especially the 2 main characters. Moreover, I wish he had a better voice for female characters --- it's really no different. Every now and then he pulled out an accent of some sort for a character, but it was just odd and ill fitting. Anyways, once you get past the narration, it's a great read.
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