BEYOND THE AQUILA rift
Short fiction, big notions
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.