Futuristic space saga may be well worth waiting for
WELSH author Alastair Reynolds is not shy about telling stories on a massive scale. He is one of the finest writers of far future science fiction, setting his works thousands or even millions of years into the future.
His new novel, Blue Remembered Earth, is atypical. It is the first book in a three-volume series called Poseidon’s Children that traces the dispersal of humankind from our solar system into what ultimately becomes an interstellar society. Reynolds’s vision is to explore 10,000 years of future history and in doing so to tell the story of how humankind realises its galactic ambitions.
This first book only covers a small part of that timescale, taking place over a few months in the middle of the 22nd century, some 150 years into our future. By this time large and vibrant settlements have been developed on the Moon and Mars, and the Earth draws an abundance of natural resources from robot-operated mining colonies on asteroids around the solar system.
The focus is on the Akinya family, which has risen to wealth and prominence due to the space-faring exploits and canny commercial decisions of its matriarch Eunice. The family’s rise coincides with emergence of Africa as a dominant global superpower. Events are set in train by Eunice’s death. A loose end in her affairs leads two of her grandchildren, Geoffrey and Sunday, on a convoluted path to solve a family mystery.
Geoffrey and Sunday have the heavy work of carrying the plot, but unfortunately have too little to offer as lead characters and it’s difficult to become emotionally invested in their story. Frankly, they are both just a bit boring. These characterisation problems let down a promising story. The nearishfuture setting is another problem. Reynolds is at his best when exploring the grand ideas of science fiction: with a PHD in astronomy and background at the European Space Agency, he brings a grounded and persuasive perspective to even the most outlandish of technological ideas.
There are some wonderful passages in this book, such as those dealing with the United Aquatic Nations, an offshoot of humanity spreading throughout Earth’s oceans with the benefit of surgical enhancement and genetic engineering. But these are far and few between. Ultimately, Blue Remembered Earth does not provide the right canvas for Reynolds’s big ideas. It is too closely linked to our own time and place, and so does not play to his strengths. There are limits on how far he can push the technology of the 22nd century and here he too often strains the bounds of credibility.
Reynolds is one of our best science fiction writers, but this is not one of his best books. The series as a whole continues to hold promise though, and it can only be hoped that the story takes off as it is flung even further into the future. George Williams, professor of law at the University of NSW, is a devotee of science fiction and fantasy writing.