Life’s what you make it
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.