REVIEW: Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds
REVIEW SUMMARY: Fine hard science fiction from a very capable author that could have been so much more.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Earth as been rendered devoid of life thanks to nanotech gone awry, and humankind has been split between those that eschew nanotech and hope to repopulate Earth the old fashion way (the Threshers or those who want to stand up to the threshold of nano use) and those who have embraced nanotech throughout their bodies and would like to terraform Earth with more nanos (the Slashers, named after those who use Slashdot – I’m not kidding.) An archaeologist from the Threshers Verity Auger becomes embroiled in interstellar intrigue when she discovers a duplicate Earth, held in stasis by alien technology, has become active and in fact can now be visited.
PROS: Great use of science fiction staples like nanotech, wormholes, and the unique concept of a giant sphere big enough to hold a copy of a world in quantum stasis.
CONS: Slow story in parts. Reynold’s characters seem cold and lifeless.
BOTTOM LINE: Still a good read, but I had expected more from Reynolds.
This book is fun and I’m glad I read it, but overall I was kind of disappointed. I was especially surprised to see that John gave it 5 stars in his previous review (and you can read his extensive summary there – I won’t repeat it.) John must have really been having a really good time when he read it . Hmm…he and I have spoken on a number of occasions about the rating system and I won’t try to put words in his mouth, but as you can see at the link above, he tries to rate how he felt about the book and the reading experience. I try to rate the book relative to all the books I’ve read and the quality of the writing. John’s opinion is extremely valid – don’t get me wrong. But by stating the book has 5 stars he’s not telling you the book is a ‘must read by any sci-fi fan’, just that he had a great time reading it.
For me, 3 stars means that I didn’t regret my time reading it, but overall it could have been better. Oh, and for me 5 stars means I believe the book is a must read by any reader – those who like sci fi or not.
I thought Reynolds warning of the hazards of nanotech was great – as our current technology takes steps in that direction his comments ring true. I also felt his concept of a alien race capable of holding an entire world in stasis, inside a massive sphere that, when required, could simulate the entire solar system around that planet was very cool. The sphere protecting the planet from outside technology through the use of a ‘censor’ – a barrier to prevent advanced technology through, was also interesting and unique.
However, overall the book suffers from some poor pacing. The times in Paris in 1959 are slow and ponderous and the chase sequence at the end seems to go on too long despite being a good action sequence. He gets credit from me for trying to develop a crossover novel that pushes the detective mystery and sci fi together but unfortunately he isn’t able to pull it off as well as it could be.
And unfortunately Reynolds hasn’t gotten any better at characters. The character of Auger is cold and wisecracking, sure, but even when she’s supposed to change and grow it ends up being wooden and unconvincing. The Floyd character is her love interest and while he’s reasonably sympathetic unfortunately he seems a secondary character to Reynolds at times. At a couple of points the characters agree to take the high risk of killing themselves in order to save the planet and these ought to be major character driving points in the novel and instead they are glossed over with little comment. Reynolds seems to have copied the Auger character right out of his other novels – perhaps I’m done reading about the cold, wisecracking older woman but I found this a bummer.
The idea of calling the Slashers that because they used to read Slashdot is … um … uninspired. OK, I guess this name doesn’t matter much, but I audibly groaned when he explained it. Finally I have to wonder what happened to the title – the words Century Rain don’t appear in the novel at all or relate in any way to the story. Instead, the relevant item was called Silver Rain – making me think something got changed, either in the prose or with the title.
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