Po­sei­don’s Wake

Life’s what you make it

SFX - - Rated dvd & blu-ray -

Re­lease Date: 30 April

608 pages | Hard­back/ ebook Au­thor: Alas­tair Reynolds Pub­lisher: Gol­lancz

There are nov­els where

it seems clear the au­thor al­ways knew where the story was go­ing. Then there are other nov­els that, if not quite seem­ing to have been made up on the fly, show ev­i­dence of how the au­thor had to adapt and even ditch ideas in or­der to get to the end of his nar­ra­tive. Po­sei­don’s Wake, the fi­nal of­fer­ing in Alas­tair Reynolds’s Po­sei­don’s Chil­dren tril­ogy, falls into the lat­ter cat­e­gory.

Which ini­tially seems strange be­cause, ac­cord­ing to a 2014 blog en­try, Reynolds wrote a 12,000- word out­line for the book. How to ex­plain this ap­par­ent dis­crep­ancy? One an­swer may be that Reynolds ini­tially planned to fol­low the Akinyas, the pow­er­ful African fam­ily in the books’ fore­ground, 11,000 years into the fu­ture.

In­stead, in- flight mod­i­fi­ca­tions have been nec­es­sary. In par­tic­u­lar, while this is a big space adventure ex­plor­ing what hap­pens when mankind de­vel­ops a star- hop­ping civil­i­sa­tion, it’s set far closer to our own time than 11 mil­len­nia away.

Here, we meet Kanu Akinya, a hu­man am­bas­sador living on a Mars where AIs hold sway; and his niece ( more or less), Goma Akinya, who stud­ies “tan­tors”, ele­phants that pos­sess en­hanced in­tel­li­gence, on a dis­tant, hu­man- colonised world, Cru­cible. Then a mes­sage draws both to the plan­e­tary sys­tem around the star Gliese 163.

There they find an it­er­a­tion of Akinya el­der Eu­nice, vast alien arte­facts, deadly ma­chine in­tel­li­gences, in­for­ma­tion on how to de­velop a rev­o­lu­tion­ary new branch of physics, and clues as to what life might be all about.

Which is go­ing to ir­ri­tate some who pre­fer their space- fic un­sul­lied by phi­los­o­phy, be­cause one way to read it is as an ex­tended riff on the place of our con­scious­nesses in the uni­verse. Think­ing about such mat­ters and adapt­ing his fic­tion ac­cord­ingly would also seem a rea­son­able ex­pla­na­tion for the sense of a tril­ogy that’s some­times con­founded Reynolds him­self as he’s worked through it. But worked through it he has, to craft a novel that works bril­liantly as a space adventure and also reads, touch­ingly, al­most as an athe­ist’s re­flec­tion on why a kind of op­ti­mistic ag­nos­ti­cism may be a use­ful ap­proach to find­ing con­tent­ment. A flawed novel? Per­haps, but a brave and big- hearted one too. Jonathan Wright “Up­lifted” ele­phants – too un­likely? Well, the crea­tures’ brains are sim­i­lar to hu­mans in terms of struc­ture and com­plex­ity.

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