BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Geoffrey and Sunday Akinya, trying to protect the reputation of their family business (and space empire), follow the clues left behind by their grandmother to discover something wonderful.
PROS: Grand ideas; likable characters; interesting world building; good ending.
CONS: At times, it seems like a connect-the-dots mystery.
BOTTOM LINE: The start of promising (and hopeful!) new series.
Blue Remembered Earth is the first in a new series by Alastair Reynolds, an author whose name has become synonymous with Big Idea science fiction. Despite being set a mere (by usual standards) one hundred fifty years in the future, Blue Remembered Earth upholds that tradition quite nicely; and it also maintains the author’s reputation as a top-notch world builder.
Here, Africa is a world superpower and one of its most powerful families, the Akinyas, have a stronghold on all matters related to space travel, forming the beginnings of a space empire. Mankind has not yet traveled outside the solar system, but there are settlements on the Moon and Mars. Society is so widely monitored that crime is all but eradicated. Technology has advanced to the point where everyone has chips in their skulls that allow them to communicate (via “chinging” to another location, or sometimes in a physical
gollum golem) or invoke augmented reality displays with any kind of information they wish to visualize. Even artificial intelligence has been achieved, although these “artilects” are forbidden since they are not completely understood.
The focus of the story revolves around the Akinya family; specifically, Geoffrey Akinya and his sister, Sunday, both of whom have chosen not to partake in the politics of the family business, though they do enjoy the family perks. Geoffrey has dedicated his life to the study of African elephants and hopes to one day communicate with them, mind-to-mind. Sunday, an artist, lives on the Moon in one of the few places that is not part of the otherwise prevalent panoptic society. It is in this Descrutinized Zone on the Moon, in fact, where the beginning of the book’s central mystery takes off. The mystery concerns Geoffrey’s and Sunday’s grandmother, Eunice Akinya, whose death just prior to the beginning of the novel sparks a series of events that not only pull Geoffrey and Sunday back into family politics (and on the bad side of their antagonistic cousins, Lucas and Hector), but more importantly, lead to events that could change the fate of humanity.
These are the stakes one would come to expect in a Reynolds novel, and readers familiar with Reynolds’ work won’t be disappointed. As usual, high stakes are accompanied by cool ideas and likable characters. The chinging ability, for example leads to some page-turning scenes, including one that can only be described as Robot Wars on steroids. There’s also the existence of a self-sufficient community of machines run amok on Mars (the location of more page-turning scenes). The book depicts some interesting applications of augmented reality, the most prevalent being the simulated posthumous personality of Eunice herself. Then there’s the depiction of space travel, which is realistic, refreshingly optimistic, and the basis for future books in the series.
If the book suffers, it’s only from a slightly off-kilter balance of mystery vs. wonder. The thrust of the narrative for much of the book is the series of clues that lead Geoffrey and Sunday from one scene to the next. It seemed much like a game of connect-the-dots, the focus of which took away from the cooler science fictional aspects of the story. To be fair, though, the story needed to progress in such a manner if it were to ultimately drive the story to final plot reveal…one that leaves readers feeling like it is not so much an ending as it is a beginning.