Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Influences: Chasm City

I’ve only been reading Alastair Reynolds recently but boy did he make an impression. One of the new wave British science fiction authors who write strong, believable space opera, Reynold’s Revelation Space series is stunning in its scope and imagination.

Chasm City was the first Reynolds novel I read and was the most visually impressive of everythign that I've read by him.
The story centres around two characters. The first is an ex-soldier turned security expert who finds himself on a strange high tech world recovering from the aftermath of a devastating alien plague. His memory is sketchy, but he knows he is chasing a man who wants to kill him to kill him first. The other story concerns a questionable leader of a fleet of slower-than-light starships racing to colonise a distant world, and the coup that results. Both characters are separated by both time and space, but their relationship is closer than anyone might suspect.

Reynolds is influenced by Larry Niven’s Known Space series and it shows in its grand scope and amazing ideas, but what Reynolds does so much better are his characters, his easy to read style and sense of pace. He even has transhumans or posthumans, highly evolved species of men and women who have transgressed the frailness of the human condition, and live almost immortal lives. However unlike many of his contemporaries, Reynold’s posthumans don’t lose their ‘humanness’ with their super abilities.

I also like that high tech is not available for everyone. For example his world of Sky’s Edge is reminiscent of a Latin American country stuck in a perpetual civil war, while his world of Yellowstone is like New Orleans after the cyclone, an amazing vibrant city struck down into squalor after a horrific external event. There are other high tech worlds out there, but they are keeping it to themselves. Unlike many science fiction writers, Reynold’s knows how to build believable political and cultural backdrops to his worlds.

Aliens feature in his stories and they are creepy, enigmatic and highly creative, often with bizarre Lovecraftian like characteristics.

Chasm City is not the only tale in the series, there is also the trilogy Revelation Space, Redemption Ark and Absolution Gap, short story collections Diamond Dog, Turquoise Days and Galactic North, and the stand-alone novel The Prefect. If you like space opera big, exciting and action packed, this is a great series to read.

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