Re-Read: Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

I’m an Alastair Reynolds fan.

Not ashamed to admit it, he writes crunchy science fiction that sits well with my critical mind. You know – the bit that competes with your enjoyment of a novel by whispering, “that’s not very realistic, is it?” in the back of your mind.

I’m not a very good fan though.

I found his books by accident, trawling the shelves of a local bookstore many years a in search of good science fiction, something which can be very hard to come by when you don’t know the genre well.

In the intervening years, I’ve read Reynolds intermittently, chancing upon one novel or another, and getting that spark of author recognition when I saw his name. I’ve enjoyed every single one, to a greater or lesser degree.

I recharged my kindle for the first time in about two years when the coronavirus-related confinement limited my entertainment options, and while flicking through books I’ve read and know well, I chanced upon Revenger. I remembered the title, recognized Alastair Reynolds’ name on the cover, which seemed familiar.

But I couldn’t remember anything about it.

Brilliant! A second run at a novel I’ve already bought, courtesy of a faulty transfer from short- to long-term memory.

The downside of reading a book you already know is that you read it much faster than the first time around, as your memory starts to fill in ever larger bits of the story for you. The upside is you get to rediscover work you enjoyed enough not to delete, which in my case is a sure measure of quality. I’m not short of memory on my kindle, but I’m still picky about what gets to fester there.

After I finished, I looked up the Wikipedia entry for Revenger and found that it’s referred to as “hard” science fiction. That I have to object to. Although much of Reynolds’ oeuvre is hard science fiction, this isn’t. The “glowy”, the “ghosty” and the “quoins” are anything but, and they’re central to the story. That said, his departure from the strict confines of hard science fiction poses no problem for me.

Fura Ness, as a protagonist, gets most of her character development out of the way in the first third of the book, and spends the rest of it coming to terms with the person she’s developed into. The world-building is, while not on a par with Seveneves, absolutely top notch. Reynolds’ willingness to kill off significant characters keeps you on your toes, but he doesn’t forego the character development of each of his victims for all that, which gives you the shock that a death in a novel ought to.

Finally, the moral complexity the book hints at is refreshing (at least to me), in a context where the real world seems ever more defined in absolutes. Even the protagonist and the anatgonist have, as we finally discover, a side to them that mitigates the obvious judgement their behaviour draws. It’s possible, in fact, that the most evil characters are on the periphery of the story, looking in.

I’d forgotten about Revenger, and I really enjoyed rediscovering it. I also discovered that there are two sequels, which I will now have to read, and other books by Reynolds that had passed unnoticed, and which will find their way onto a list that informs future reading decisions.

Classic Revisited: A Wizard of Earthsea

I wrote back in January that I felt Ursula Le Guin’s passing was a great loss for both the art of writing and for SFF in particular. I was driven at the time by my memories of reading A Wizard of Earthsea, one of the first fantasy books I ever held in my hands. You know, back when paper was a thing.

Since I wrote that, I’ve thought back occasionally to the story itself, only to realise that I don’t remember it all that well.

Passing through an airport last week I came across a collection of the first four Earthsea books and it felt a little too much like divine providence to ignore. I ploughed through A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan over the next couple of flights, and rediscovered the work.

Continue reading Classic Revisited: A Wizard of Earthsea

How To Make A Spaceship, by Julian Guthrie

This is not a science fiction book, it’s science fact.

It’s the story of how one man hacked human motivation to create incentives for other people to achieve something he thought was very important. A biography of sorts, it tracks the meandering path followed by one man in an attempt to wrest spacefilght from the clutches of the public sector by inspiring private organizations and individuals to pick up the baton and run with it. Continue reading How To Make A Spaceship, by Julian Guthrie