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REVIEW: Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds

REVIEW SUMMARY: Slightly overshadowed by a connect-the-dots mystery, but nonetheless a wonder-filled read.

MY RATING:

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.

MY REVIEW:
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.

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

6 Comments on REVIEW: Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds

  1. Hm. Somehow I felt this one to be one of Reynolds’ weaker works overall – especially when compared to Revelation Space novels.
    It is difficult to pin down precisely why, though – it’s not like this is a bad or even mediocre novel by any stretch of the imagination, it just… isn’t *as good*.
    One factor would be, I suppose, the slower dynamics of progression. Maybe it was just a false impression, but it seemed as if both the event unfolding and the character development was stretched out just a tad too long. I know that it is a crude remark to just say “stuff happened too slowly”, but, well, there it is.
    Another aspect… likable characters? Have to disagree on that. Perhaps it is because this is merely the first of a new series, but the characters are frustratingly inflexible, showing miniscule, if any, development (imo) and the flaws they have (and I’m not implying that flawed characters are bad, quite the opposite, flaws are what truly craft memorable characters) unfortunately tend to play on the reader’s “annoyance” and “frustration” emotions, as opposed to heavier-hitting yet less negativizing ones (characters invoking anger, despair, sympathy, comradeship). it is not a good thing when a character seems to be created purely to evoke contempt through frustration, but that’s precisely what the lead hero seems to do here.

    Well, anyway. Am I right in thinking that this novel definitely reaches for a far lower scope than Revelation Space did? I don’t know if it’s becuase of the timeline+setting, or maybe A.R. plans to go all-out on sequels and needs to establish a low-standing base to truly give room for the greatest escalation yet, but.. Well, that’s the thing. As a standalone, it doesn’t reach the grand visions that I could rely on Reynolds to provide in nearly all of his other novels.

    Still, it is a likable novel in its own right, I can’t deny that.

    P.S. By the way, it was eerily similar to 2312, wasn’t it?

    • Thanks, John.

      I haven’t read this one, but I do get the impression, as Eliah suggests, that its in the same space as 2312.

      A connect the dots mystery sounds more than a bit disappointment, given the canvas Reynolds has to play with here.

      • Not having read 2312, it’s hard to say.

        The mystery wasn’t a disappointment, exactly; it did serve is purpose. It just felt less complex than it could have been.

    • I guess it says something that you think this is one of the author’s weaker works yet still likable. 🙂

      I’m not sure that stuff happened too slowly, but then I may have given this book more leeway than I usually do. This was an unusual read for me, calendar-wise. I was able to devote way less time to reading this than I normally have. I know reviewers are supposed to somehow ignore this, but I cannot deny that numerous, smaller reading sessions impact continuity and flow. Imagine watching your favorite sitcom one minute at a time over the course of a month. It could be because of this that I felt it was a “connect-the-dots mystery”.

      As for likable characters, perhaps I did not use the best word. I liked that the characters were interesting and not necessarily stereotypical. The cousins Lucas and Hector, for example, were far from likable, but I loved how I was rooting for Geoffrey to win their constant arguments. That wouldn’t have happened if the cousins weren’t portrayed as jerks. Not likable, per se, but welcome.

      This is a smaller scope than than Revelation Space in some ways. But, as I understand it, this is the beginning of a huge family history that parallels mankind’s journey to the stars. And that, to me, is a grand scope indeed. And Blue Remembered Earth had enough sense of wonder that I found something cool or interesting in just about every chapter.

  2. gollum = golem, I assume?

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