A surprising and staisfying departure for Reynolds
Reynolds' latest is somewhat of a departure from his more sweeping and awe-inspiring conceptions of the future. This tale is situated in the later hal..Show More »f of the 22nd century with earth having been ravaged by global warming resulting in geopolitical dislocations. The West has been marginalized due to environmental disruptions. Africa has assumed a world leadership position and one specific African family has replicated the Rockefeller/Ford/Walmart model of dominating the rising economic drivers of their age; in their case energy and space industries are paramount. The family's rise to prominence has been the result of a matriarch (Eunice) who was renown for her space exploits like Lindbergh or Earhart.
The tale begins with the passing of Eunice and our main character, Geoffrey who is an otherwise dedicated, but inconsequential elephant researcher with no interest in the family business, is commandeered to handle a delicate matter of tying up loose ends left by her. What ensues is an adventure saga of following clues and puzzles left by Eunice that only her family could decipher. Along the way, the mystery that was Eunice grows deeper. The sci-fi so prominent in previous Reynolds novels, is present, but is almost secondary to the plot and serves to advance the story, rather than vice versa: advanced AI, gene engineered humans (but still in the early phase with some problems evident), settlement of the solar system, human/animal mind interface, and continual population surveillance with action control. As usual, Reynolds' thorough descriptions provide for an extremely realistic and believable depiction of the future. Perhaps the only ding to the tale is that the final plot twist was too predictable and expected.
The narration is excellent with a full range of male and female voices as well as the beyond human constructs.
Taking the history he created in ‘Blue Remembered Earth’ forward another generation, Alastair Reynolds succeeds in teasing the reader’s interest in th..Show More »e alien mystery waiting at the end of a 200-year old journey, but keeps the scope of events surprisingly restrained for an author known to write in cosmic epochs that laugh at stacks of expired civilizations. Again, he keeps his dramatic perspective on one single family, which can really be said to in fact be one person, duplicated across three cloned bodies who occasionally synchronize their mind states. This concept I found fun, and made for some interesting moments as the separate lives of our tri-fold protagonist, Chiku Akinya, reconciled herselves with the existence of multiple husbands/lovers and families at either end of her dual lives. There is also some great world building here within one of the main settings for the action, the asteroid-sized holoship traveling as part of a caravan to a new and promising alien world. Reynolds, in 2001’s "Chasm City", has previously written about a rivalry between en-route colony generation ships which violently escalates once the prize comes into sight, but with much more believability here. The other two setting loci, Earth and the destination world of Crucible, both have similar challenges for the Chiku heroines in the form of an all-powerful artificial intelligence willing to kill in order to ensure it’s own survival. Like Chiku, this intelligence, Arachne, has been cloned across two distant star systems, but these have remained un-syncronized, and have begun to drift apart in their thinking towards humanity.
The story has well-paced action scenes that don’t rush in too close together, and characters that are compelling to follow, though a bit too saintly and flawless, I felt. I think a reader who hasn’t read the earlier story would feel unsatisfied with this one, and clearly too many questions remain unanswered to give up on ready the series now.
Adjoa Andoh’s narration is impressive for it’s commitment to thickly, haltingly accented English coming from a variety of multi-national characters, but being impressive is not the same as being enjoyable. Whether it’s the baseline Swahili accent of the protagonist, the guttural fish-man accent from the aquatic mer-people, the crafty old lady variant of the earlier swahili accent (this one used for no less than 3 characters), I found them all just a little too over-the-top. I’m sure I’m revealing my own anglocentric cultural bias here, but my ear just needed a rest from the added work of mentally decoding every spoken word. The final straw for me was the dual accent-fail for Chiku’s two significant others, Lucas and Pedro. I want to write about how offensively bad they both are, but I… just.. can’t listen to that exaggerated Texas drawl or caricature Mexican again. Let me instead just stick to my complementary remarks, however- and it’s genuinely the case that Andoh makes a very ambitious effort which must have been quite exhausting, and I know I have no such talent at all.
Poseidon’s Wake is the 3rd installment of Alastair Reynold’s Poseidon’s Children trilogy. This installment is several hundred years after volume 2 wit..Show More »h Crucible now a functioning planet. The Watchkeepers have rendered interstellar travel risky, but a “message” from an uninhabited star system directed at a specific Akinya launches a 140 year voyage to solve the mystery. At the same time, another Akinya back in the Earth system aligns with the machines from Mars to investigate. The mystery surrounding Eunice, Chiku, and Dakota is revealed as well as background on the Watchkeepers and the 2nd alien race that built the mandala.
The sci-fi elements expand the elephant intelligence theme as well as building on the Eunice artificial intelligence, now rendered into actual flesh and blood. The Watchkeepers are revealed as a type of zombie intelligence with consciousness. Much of the sci-fi revolves around the varying manifestations of intelligence. But the truly mind bending aspect is an exploration of the fundamental laws of physics that offer the possibility of meaningless existence since everything could wink out as a result of quantum flux. There are hints at actually attempting to reverse engineer the laws of the universe to eliminate this threat. This is a hard listen on many levels. The fundamental science fiction is philosophically engrossing, but the plodding nature of plot development along with unengaging characters can become tiresome. The fundamental structure of Reynold’s universe is based on futuristic dominance by Africa that was never sufficiently detailed. North and South America do not exist, Europe has been reduced to just Lisbon, and China merely garners a single representative who is now a whale, while Chinese is sometimes the alternate language. Humanity is basically a hive, not a hive mind, but just a hive. Akinya women are the queen bees, while Akinya men are the male drones supporting the queens, with the rest of humanity reduced to worker bees. Everything in existence has derived from Akinya women from business and economics by Eunice, art by Sunday, and science by Ndigi, working under house arrest at her kitchen table. There’s one Russian operating as a hit man with no motivation for his actions. The Lin Wei conversion to a whale renders her a type of hermit living in a cave that somehow people derive wisdom by just talking to her.
Then there’s the fascination with “tantors” which are just genetically enhanced elephants. There is an almost atavistic obsession with a Kafka-esque man creating God quality with sycophantic worship to the point that one tantor equates to thousands of human. At the same time, a small splinter group is so terrified of tantors, there is a willingness to stage a suicide mission to kill them off the on chance they happen to be found. The proposed rationale justifying this behavior as due to man’s treatment of elephant seems hardly reasonable since horses have probably been treated worse and cows were raised merely for food. Despite the length, the Earth system is inadequately detailed to understand the terrorists and the consolidation.
The characters are annoyingly tiresome. Eunice is an obnoxious, narcissistic Forrest Gump who manages to create who technologies and economies merely by changing her socks. Goma and Ru are constantly morphing all the time except for their tantor obsession and Carno who begins as a diplomat, somehow becomes a science and techno geek. Finally, the notion that if a smart alien intelligence reveals the underlying physics of the universe can be proven to be meaningless because it can end at any moment would somehow be readily believed and then induce depression and catatonia is a bit far-fetched.
The narration is the final element that is troublesome. While accurately rendered with realistic African accents, the melodic trilling and rolling of every “r” will either be favorably enjoyed or quickly become tiresome and straining. There’s also little gender distinction except for the non-African accented characters. Finally, just as a cinematic ceiling fan indicates higher ambient temperature by spinning slower, the more intelligent, especially the elephants, the slower the speech which simply drags everything out.