Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The Rough Guide to Space Opera: Alastair Reynolds - Blue Tyson

Alastair Reynolds is a science fiction author best known for his hard SF space opera, in particular the Revelation Space Universe. To paraphrase what Johnny told the Devil as he relieved him of a golden violin during his soujourn in Georgia, "Son, he's the best there's ever been." One book cover calls him a "Mastersinger of the Space Opera". To take it further, he is THE Mastersinger of the Space Opera. Or if you prefer it a little more Lulu : "No-one can catch him, no writer can match him, for his million dollar skill."

As good a novelist as Reynolds remains, that is, one capable of producing a couple of brilliant books and making sure the others are high quality, he is actually better at the short form. It is here that his predilection for length doesn't run away with him a la Absolution Gap. Or, he has never met a 200,000 word length he didn't like as far as novels go, and this is probably his greatest weakness. No such concerns exist with short stories, and he has produced them in a number of subgenres. Thankfully, there are many of subgenre interest in his 40+ works.

For the Revelation Space titles listed here, these are novels: Chasm City is the story of a man named Tanner Mirabel and his search for killers of his family and identity as he shakes up the twisted melding-plague ridden techno-organic implant destroying and bored society on Yellowstone and their game playing. Revelation Space is the story of Dan Sylveste who is trying to find out why a race of aliens known as the Amarantin became instinct, and discover the secrets of the strange region of space called The Shroud, as the crew of the starship The Nostalgia For Infinity come together. Redemption Ark highlights the conflict between two human factors, The Conjoiners and the Demarchists, with the latter losing until The Conjoiners are spooked on the discovery that the Wolf aliens want to wipe everybody out. Enter a cache of superweapons, Dan Sylveste, and The Nostalgia For Infinity, along with Neville Clavain's enemy Skade. Absolution Gap has Clavain making a sacrifice to enable hyperpig Scorpio, Ana Khouri and others to have a chance at surviving against The Inhibitors, including, again, The Nostalgia For Infinity. Galactic North and Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days are the two Revelation Space collections.

For the Revelation Space short stories, in Diamond Dogs adventurers explorer a strange artifact whose penetration requires the solving of ever-harder mathematical puzzles of greater lethality, and a twisted surgeon is eager to assist. Galactic North has the return of Remontoire, and an advanced space battle and pursuit. Glacial has Neville Clavain investigating a frozen murder mystery on a base. Grafenwalder's Bestiary exposes the twisted trade in alien lifeforms, and their modification. Great Wall of Mars tells the story of Neville Clavain's conflict with his brother, and of his joining the Conjoiners in disturbing fashion as they fight to escape the red planet with the help of a genius but damaged child. Monkey Suit is set on a ship, and when a crew member dies in a freak accident, his AI-assisted suit that has adapted to him must be repurposed to helps save the ship. Nightingale has an expedition to exploit a hospital ship that is not all as it seems. Weather has the pursuit of a Conjoiner drive powered vessel whose operators are not all there voluntarily, and it is slowly being overhauled by some bad people.

Hideaway, Minla's Flowers and Merlin's Gun are three stories about the character Merlin. The first is the earliest, when he and his colleagues become involved in black holes and stellar extinctions. Minla's Flowers has Merlin obvserving through waking at intervals over a long time period the changes in a civilisation, and how they can doom themselves through internecine squabbling. Merlin's Gun finds a woman coming into contact with Merlin during a space conflict, and with him leaving his legacy in her hands.

Of the standalone novels, House of Suns has posthuman clans throwing themselves out into the universe to explore, and the conflicts between them, as well as discoveries of other forms of life and powerful entities, following one Gentian Line pair in particular. Thousandth Night is a directly related and online short work. Century Rain has future humans investigating why there is a separate past world they can connect to that is stuck in 1950s France. It is dangerous to get to, and there is still the conflict between the two human organisations in the future, Slashers and Threshers. Who created this place?
Pushing Ice ends up in Greg Bear territory, after a spaceship crew who has the job of retrieving large resource chunks have a disagreement, and end up somewhere much stranger. Terminal World is a new Planetary Romance, where a man who is not what he seems has to go adventuring with a bodyguard when one of his own comes down to his own zone and dies. Technology works differently in different areas on this planet, and the truth about the world and control of this still mostly functioning city admist the decay is at the heart of this novel.

The standalone stories mentioned include Fury, where the security chief for a Galactic Empire discovers his otherworldly origins after an assassination attempt on his boss. Scales is a military SF story where people on a shielded and protected Earth get recruited to fight against lizard-like aliens, in a looping story where the conflict and warriors evolves all the time and is not as it seems. The Six Directions of Space has a spy investigating technology from another universe, when both she and a pilot from such fall into the hands of an enemy, and they have to try and survive, even if it is definitely not where they came from that is the only place it is possible to do so. The Star Surgeon's Apprentice has a young man in trouble with criminal gangs locally barter a deal for a position on a ship out of there. His problem, it is a notorious pirate ship, full of enslaved workers and aliens. Tiger, Burning, has a cross-brane troubleshooter investigating a murder in the multiverse.

Finally, there is a sampling of interviews. You can find more information at Alastair Reynolds (ology).

Chasm City

Revelation Space

Redemption Ark

Absolution Gap

Galactic North

Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days

Diamond Dogs

Galactic North [short story]


Grafenwalder's Bestiary

Great Wall of Mars

Monkey Suit



Timeline For the Revelation Space Universe


Minla's Flowers

Merlin's Gun

House of Suns

Thousandth Night

Century Rain

Pushing Ice

Terminal World



The Six Directions of Space

The Star Surgeon's Apprentice

Tiger, Burning

SF Revu Interview

Some Sort of Internal Consistency

Deep Space Deeper Revelations