Fu­tur­is­tic space saga may be well worth wait­ing for

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Ge­orge Wil­liams

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.

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