Gareth L. Powell takes a golden age SF idea, one might even say a Clarke-ian idea, and places it squarely in the 21st (and 25th) Century – strange archways appear at random places and random times throughout the world, causing confusion and more than a bit of a scare. This is the premise of his major imprint debut, The Recollection. Though this idea is rather grand, he starts the novel very grounded, as Eddie Rico is being roughed up by some gangsters after losing a night of card games. His brother Verne bails him out of the trouble, but Verne is soon after sucked into one of the aforementioned arches. Not; however, before Ed can tell Verne that he and Verne’s wife Alice have been having an affair. Ed wants to find his brother, but Alice is hesitant until an arch appears in a remote field near her. So, the two put aside their tense past and embark on a journey to find and hopefully save Verne.
Not satisfied to follow one plot strand, Powell focuses his storytelling lens four hundred years into the future – a future where humanity has expanded to other planets and made contact with alien, sentient beings. The focal characters here are Kat Abdulov and Victor Luciano – rival space merchants who once shared a love life. The Recollection is a threat is encroaching in the galaxy, something the alien Dho, the sentient life forms who befriended humanity, have known to be on the horizon for many years.
While I referenced Arthur C. Clarke initially, the more I read the novel, the more I felt The Recollection to be thematically similar to one of Solaris’s other 2011 releases (and perhaps my favorite Science Fiction novel of 2011) Eric Brown’s King’s of Eternity. Both novels employ narratives running in parallel separated by hundreds of years (Brown’s time lapse was a bit shorter), both have a romance element to the plot, and both hinge on portals empowered by benevolent aliens. The “feel” of The Recollection also reminded me slightly of Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin, though I thought RCW’s novel to be an overall more successful novel. Where I found the most direct homage or similarity to ACC is the depiction of the Dho, which have a superficial similarity – demon-like appearance- as the Overlords in Clarke’s Childhood’s End.
Powell’s greatest strength in the novel is his ability to give the four main characters (Ed, Alice, Kat, and Victor) a real sense of humanity. In doing so, I found his contrast of this humanity against galactic pressures and forces to be mostly successful. Where he was less successful, was in some of the important plot points that draw events together towards the end. Though I wouldn’t say one element in particular was completely out of left field, it did seem a bit forced and somewhat out of place in a Space Opera/Science Fiction novel. Whether Powell had this specific plot element in mind or it was an outgrowth of how his story was progressing, I can’t be sure but for me, it felt too much of an obvious insertion to solve an issue. It’s one of those points in a story that I don’t know how he could have handled this big element differently, but I don’t know if the way it was handled was the best option available.
Fortunately, Powell’s narrative strength and characters worked well enough for me to overlook what in a less polished and well-balanced novel could have been a credibility killer. I liked the ever-important “Sense of Wonder” Powell evoked, with ample use of aliens, alien technology, Big Dumb Objects, solid characters, and a future history for humanity in the stars. Powell shows promise in The Recollection of interesting things to come. He’ll be an author on my radar and one whose future work I would definitely give another chance.