|Review: ‘House of Suns’ - Alastair Reynolds|
|Written by Iain|
|Tuesday, 17 November 2009 17:33|
Alastair Reynolds first came to my attention with Revelation Space , his debut novel published in 2000. The ‘Revelation Space universe’ has been the setting for a number of his other works, including short stories and four other novels. This universe is set in the relatively near future (roughly various points between 2200 and 40 000 AD), and the stories have generally taken on a hard sci-fi bent.
I’d not been familiar with any of his non-Revelation Space universe novels until I read House of Suns. This book takes place a rather unimaginable 6 million years into the future, where humanity has spread out into an apparently otherwise uninhabited galaxy, although a robot civilisation, known as the Machine People, has evolved. The main focus is on Gentian Line, a group of originally 1,000 humans cloned from an individual, Abigail Gentian, millions of years previously, who set out to explore the galaxy separately, but meeting up for a grand reunion every 200,000 years.
So, unlike Revelation Space, you’d be hard pressed to classify this as ‘hard’ sci-fi. The idea of a group of humans remaining alive for such an unfeasibly large amount of time having undergone little physical alteration is a tricky one to swallow. Line members have seemingly made some changes to themselves in order to deal mentally with the enormous prolongation of their natural lifespans, as well as putting themselves into stasis or ‘abeyance’ for long journeys aboard their spacecraft – although in interstellar space, where at best only very close to the speed of light can be achieved, there’s no such thing for them as a short journey.
Post-humanism, in particular through one character - or perhaps more accurately, entity - is alluded to, and we have the aforementioned Machine People, who are pivotal to the plot. But anyone looking for something imagining a post-singularity far future is in for a disappointment.
But that’s not really the point. This novel, although meandering at times, is an enjoyable read, and one that takes an interesting twist (or maybe one I was just too dozy to have foreseen) towards the end. It’s something of a love story (you’ve been warned hard sci-fi nerds!), and at times it almost reads more like fantasy. Very obviously so when we get flashbacks to an extremely involving role-playing game Abigail played in her youth. But also in some of the dialogue, particularly between members of the Line during their gathering, and then also in the naming of Line spacecraft; we have titles like Sliver Wings of Morning and Midnight Queen.
So, fantasy overtones, but this is still sci-fi (although with more of an emphasis on the ‘fi’) from the pen of a great sci-fi author. I wonder what I’ll be up to in 6 million years time… PURVW6KFJWH5