Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds
Book 1 of Poseidon’s Children
Published by Gollancz, January 2012
ISBN: 978 0 575 08827 6
Review by Mark Yon
Much fuss in the SF publishing world has been made about the fact that in 2009 Alastair was given a large sum of money, allegedly £1 million, with his British publishers for ten books to be published over the next ten years. Though the steam-punky Terminal World was published in 2010, it seems that much of this advance was connected to this series, a hard SF tale of the emergence of Africa in the 22nd century as a superpower group of nations and Earth’s transcendence to the stars.
My initial thoughts that such a scenario would lead to Alastair writing near-future travelogue-SF, in the manner of Ian McDonald or Paolo Bacigalupi, were a little worrying. I really wasn’t sure whether the idea would work.
I needn’t have worried, though. In a style more Peter F. Hamilton or Neal Asher than Ian McDonald, this is a brilliant tale that quickly removed my fears and won me over.
The story is focussed on Geoffrey, initially a young boy living in Africa with his sister Sunday and his grandmother Eunice. As the story develops we discover that the Akinya family are quite well-to-do, and in the rapidly changing global economy are clearly one of the groups to take advantage of Africa’s burgeoning new-found wealth and economic prosperity. At the beginning of the novel they have Asher-like implants to connect them to the AI global network, the Mechanism, with human-like simulacrums by the end. With an absence of war and famine, it soon becomes clear that Humanity’s future lies in expansion to the rest of the Solar System and beyond, something Geoffrey’s family are quick to take advantage of. They have made a considerable sum mining resources from the solar system, though Geoffrey is more interested in studying elephant psychology in Africa.
The death of Eunice leads to Geoffrey picking up for the family something Eunice left behind in a deposit box on the Moon. What he finds there leads to him unravelling a series of clues in order to discover a game-changing artifact. At this point I did have problems in trying to forget the film plot of Nicolas Cage’s National Treasure, but what such a premise really allows Alastair to do in an SF setting is take Geoffrey and Sunday on a Clarkean Grand-Tour of the Solar System (see Imperial Earth) visiting not only the Moon but also delving below Earth’s oceans, Mars and the Oort Cloud. It’s done well enough to make those thoughts of Nicolas Cage quickly disappear.
It is, in essence, a generational space-family-saga of the type quite common in the 1980’s and 90’s, (see, for example, Michael Flynn’s Firestar series) though where the focus then was often US based, this one is stridently African/Asian, reflecting current trends. Though I’m not convinced that the role of Europe and North America in future space exploration would be quite as low key as it is suggested here, it’s an interesting take. And there are reasons suggested in the novel as to why this is – hints of global catastrophes (both physical and technological) which might allow the dominance of those countries as a consequence.
Positively Clarkean in its optimistic perspective of future space exploration, this was a read I found difficult to put down. In some ways a pleasingly old-fashioned adventure story, there’s enough of a new spin here to make the tale worth reading.
Like Clarke though, the characterisation will be a little flat for some, though Geoffrey and Sunday are fairly well developed. To me, though, the real winner is the environment that the characters travel in. The places that we visit around the Solar System with Geoffrey and Sunday have a vivacity and a joy that make them of primary interest to the reader. We revel in the sense of place – weirdly different, yet oddly human. There’s surveillance on Earth, a disenfranchised group of people on the Moon, robots on Mars and people mining in the Oort Cloud. Alastair’s optimism shows that the human race has a diverse future.
This is Alastair taking on the likes of Clarke, or perhaps Ben Bova, Greg Bear and Stephen Baxter. Less galaxy-spanning than the Revelation Space universe, its focus on Earth and the solar system creates a more focused, thoughtful, engaging and interesting novel, though clearly its centre of attention will expand with later books in the series.
Whatever the critics may say, to my mind this book shows a writer who is worth the money invested, based on what I’ve read here. This is my favourite Alastair Reynolds to date, and I can’t wait to see where this series goes next. Recommended.
Mark Yon, January 2012