Review of House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds

A dense mosaic of mesmerizing notions injected with a jumbo-sized hypo of s-f crack, rich with subtle corollaries of theory and conjecture. Huge, labyrinthine, wild. 

My first Reynolds. Now I have that combination of elation and despair, knowing that I’m in it for the long haul. I have to read all of his books. There’s no way around it. Only, what the hell? 10,000 pages to go…

Standing on the shoulders of such giants as Asimov, Clarke, Niven, and basically everyone, Reynolds paints a massive mural across the stars, encompassing every sciencey idea under multiple suns.

The scale of the timeline is gross, morbidly obese, and grotesquely complex, adding layers of incomprehensibility to the nefarious plot. But telling any tale over the course of millions of years is bound to generate more questions than answers. I admire the gumption, the gall.

Maybe you s-f geniuses out there could help me catch up to the hundred essential concepts I probably missed. Why is a star-dam so dangerous, if unlocked? We are dealing with space-faring legions. How is anything a threat when you have all that space to escape into? Let’s say they point the dam at you (How would they, anyway?) – can’t you just move out of the way? It’s light-minutes away, so wouldn’t the intensity dissipate over the distance?

Honestly, I don’t feel like reading tons of reviews and summaries to try and fill in the gaps. I am content to let the mysteries evaporate within the supermassive cloud of ideas left over in my mind. My consciousness felt like a machine person’s after reaching the finale, that is, uncontained within my skull, transitorily disparate within my corporeal system.

Apart from analyzing the wacky concepts to be found on every page (in every freaking paragraph), there is a lot of swagger to this impressive novel. Enough adventure and intrigue to plunge you into a cold sweat for hours of adrenaline-filled reading panic-cum-ecstasy.

Utilizing dreamy flashbacks, and story-telling through conversations which sometimes take years within the relative timescape of the narrative, Reynoldissimo weaves ring worlds, Dyson swarms, and wormholes dropped into massive stars to fuel intricate meta-civilizations, with lots of clone shenanigans, some let’s-not-call-it-incest-because-we’re-clones, and even a few genuine-ish relationships. Shatterlings (clones) manage to make the most of their ridiculously long lifespans, charting courses across galaxies, interacting with sentient cosmic nonentities, reporting on the fall of vast empires, and centaurs (why centaurs?).

My pupils were time-dilated frequently. More than any other book I’ve read, with the possible exception of Cixin Liu’s Death’s End, this one exhibits the propensity to explore the physical and mental event horizon of the science fiction genre, making the quantum leap into speculative literature of the highest order.

Light on the character development, with occasional Hollywoodized dialogue, Reynolds still blows Lem, Heinlein, and Niven out of the water. He carves out a continent of potentialities for his own territory, plants his flag firmly into the firmament of s-f gods, picking and choosing from the vast trove of futuristic archives of amazing stuff we have discovered as a species (or thought about too much) to condense the juicy bits into a gormandizing cornucopia of freakish proportions. Quite a trip.

Review of Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds

Second Reynolds after House of Suns. This one felt like he was phoning it in by comparison with the first. 

Still a decent s-f novel with a great concept. If you look at all of his concepts, they tend to be perfect set-ups. The backs of his books often read better than the books themselves.

I do think he weaves in a lot of ideas, but I did not feel that the world was fully explored. I did not care about the characters and the pacing dragged. A lot of people may be easily immersed in the futuristic setting, taking place on a sky-piercing tower, with multiple civilizations distributed throughout its levels, each constricted to a different level of technology. You can go a lot of directions with such a concept, but the central thrust of the narrative, the main conflict, while it worked in a cinematic sense, seemed to lack the tension I was hoping for.

If I compare it to House of Suns, the leading concept is more central to this plot than that other. In HoS, the experience of reading the book is heightened by the subtlety of the world building, how one gets the sense of an endless variety of forms within the fictional universe. There is less of that feeling here, much less, and it is a straightforward exploration of an intriguing world.

Long-winded, slightly repetitive in plotting, and with fewer memorable characters. Nonetheless, Reynolds is a powerhouse s-f writers. Clearly one of the best, but is not exempt from occasionally boring me. How could he have improved it, you ask? The simple answer would be detail. It feels a little like Mad Max, which I liked, but non-stop action only serves to turn the brain off. I wanted a discussion of scientific speculations, woven with the tried-and-true themes, lots more atmosphere. Instead, we got one action set-piece following another.