Short fic­tion, big no­tions

SFX - - Reviews - Jonathan Wright

re­leased 21 July 784 pages | Hard­back/ebook Au­thor alas­tair reynolds Pub­lisher Gol­lancz

There’s al­ways some­thing ironic about the kind of weighty vol­ume that seeks to gather up the best of an es­tab­lished nov­el­ist’s shorter work. But don’t let the sheer heft of Al Reynolds’s new col­lec­tion (20 sto­ries, seven pre­vi­ously un­col­lected) put you off be­cause, in ad­di­tion to be­ing one of our best SF nov­el­ists, he’s also turned out some spell­bind­ing shorter fic­tion down the years.

For proof, new­com­ers to Reynolds’s fic­tional world should turn im­me­di­ately to the novella “Diamond Dogs”. It’s a story that, ac­cord­ing to a “Story Notes” af­ter­word, was in­spired by moun­taineer­ing and “the pe­cu­liar al­lure of dan­ger­ous spa­ces”. In Reynolds’s hands, this raw idea be­comes a tale of adren­a­line junkies try­ing to solve the mys­ter­ies of an un­for­giv­ing alien arte­fact. It’s a tale that, as it moves to­wards its un­set­tling con­clu­sion, con­firms what many readers think they know about Reynolds: that he brings a vis­ceral, new weird-in­fused qual­ity to hard SF. The prose of China Miéville, Reynolds has said, had a big ef­fect on his writ­ing.

Yet per­haps this ob­scures some of Reynolds’ other strengths as a writer. Reread­ing 2000’s “Great Wall Of Mars” re­minds you how of­ten Reynolds’s sto­ries are char­ac­ter-driven. Even now, that’s sur­pris­ingly rare in the field.

Else­where, the col­lec­tion finds space for sto­ries from through­out Reynolds’s ca­reer, rang­ing from “Thou­sandth Night”, a kind of pre­cur­sor to the far fu­ture-set House Of Suns, to the Mun­dane SF fu­ture-his­tory of “The Wa­ter Thief” and the idea of a space probe han­dling its own me­dia pro­file that un­der­pins “In Ba­bels­berg”.

Taken to­gether, it’s a book that reads like both a sum­ma­tion of what’s gone be­fore and a clear­ing of the throat be­fore the next stage of Reynolds’s ca­reer – and also proof that he’s as good a con­tem­po­rary SF nov­el­ist as we have.

Next: Re­venger (due Septem­ber), a space pi­rate story where hu­man­ity is thriv­ing amid the ru­ins of alien civil­i­sa­tions.

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