Six million years ago, at the very dawn of the starfaring era, Abigail Gentian fractured herself into a thousand male and female clones: the shatterlings. Sent out into the galaxy, these shatterlings have stood aloof as they document the rise and fall of countless human empires. They meet every 200,000 years to exchange news and memories of their travels with their siblings.Not only are Campion and Purslane late for their 30-second reunion but they have also brought along an amnesiac golden robot for a guest. But the wayward shatterlings get more than the scolding they expect: they face the discovery that someone has a very serious grudge against the Gentian line, and there is a very real possibility of traitors in their midst. The surviving shatterlings have to dodge exotic weapons while they regroup to try to solve the mystery of who is persecuting them and why---before their ancient line is wiped out of existence forever.
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Alastair Reynolds is one of the few great writers of hard science fiction space operas working today (Vernor Vinge and Charlie Stross are others). A key premise of the book is that faster-than-light travel is just as impossible in the future as it seems today, so the characters in the novel maintain a unique existence over millions of years by traveling at relativistic speeds and placing themselves in long-term suspended animation. The result explores one of Reynold's favorite topics: Deep Time, where trips between stars take thousands of years and civilizations rise and fall as the characters complete 100,000 year circuits of the galaxy.
This serves as context for a slow-building, but fascinating tale, for which the less said, the better for you, as a listener. It takes a long time to realize the central conflict, with much action on the way, but the pieces come together satisfyingly.
The common criticism on Audible seems to be that the book is "too long" or that the ending is unsatisfying. I disagree on both counts: the ending is remarkably good, and the length seems perfect, especially for epic science fiction. If you like your science fiction hard, this is a great choice.
- Ethan M. "On Audible since the late 1990s, mostly science fiction, fantasy, history & science. I rarely review 1-2 star books that I can't get through"
House of Suns ReadMe (should have been included in the audiobook): This entire book is written First Person from three different POV's, Abigail Gentian in the 31st century before the shattering and Purslane and Campion, two of Abigail's 1000 clones (shatterlings), told 6 million years after the shattering. The book is presented in eight parts with an introduction to each part done from Abigail's time and POV and subsequent chapters within each part alternate between Purslane's and Campion's POV.
If you picked up the printed book, you would see the setup instantly - the book is not written to intentionally confuse - but it takes an hour or so to figure out what is going on in the audiobook because there is nothing to alert you to the shift in points of view. One paragraph to prevent a listener from an hour of confusion, but that was apparently just too much work for Tantor Audio - shame on them! And, I was also disappointed in John Lee. I listened to that man provide dozens of distinct voices for men and women both in 47 hours of the Count of Monte Cristo, but he provides almost NO differentiation between Abigail, Purslane, and Campion. (One girl/woman, one woman, and one man and they all sound like John Lee!) If you know how the book is organized (see ReadMe) this won't cause much trouble, but since the audio book producers didn't see fit to provide an introduction to help the listener I am completely baffled as to why John Lee couldn't have helped a bit with more character differentiation in his narration. As always, John Lee's voice is easy on the ears so if you just know what's going on, the narration is alright - just not as good as I know that man can do.
Climbing off my soapbox and getting to the good stuff - oh man, I LOVED this book. House of Suns has been in my wish list for ages, but I just couldn't get a sense of whether I would like this author so I put off trying this. However, after recently pickling my brain on too much candified sci-fi, I was really itching for some of the real thing and House of Suns is recommended by a couple of reviewers I've come to trust so I took the plunge. To me it reads sort of like Asimov with a liberal sprinkling of Neil Gaiman and Rod Serling. I would bet that if you tweak to the eerie, if you love the hair raising tingle of The Twilight Zone, you'll enjoy House of Suns.This is a cosmic mystery with a couple of "real-time" who-dunnit subplots along the way, peopled with wonderful characters, and just enough quantum physics to let the mind go with flow without too much math to slow down the plot. This story grabbed me from the beginning and never let go - the writing is great and the eerie tension of the plot is sustained until the very end. I thought the ending was PERFECT. You get a true conclusion with real poignancy and just a enough left unexplained that your mind can still ruminate over possible answers for many days after you finish. (Who was the real Abigail anyway?) The story doesn't need any additional chapters, but I would love to see a sequel because I would really enjoy further exploration of this universe in the company of the oh-so-personable shatterlings.
One last note, there are a couple of references in Reynolds writing to King Crimson songs, but the little Easter Egg that got to me the most I haven't seen mentioned in reviews. House of Suns is partially inspired by the story of Sarah Winchester. Because I have been to Winchester House, I suddenly recognized that story (which is fascinating) incorporated into this novel. Sarah Winchester has inspired a lot of authors, but I haven't seen her in sci-fi before - very cool.
If you like your sci-fi with light sabers and monsters, House of Suns might not be for you. But if you perk to the mysterious and eerie and can handle a few hours of not knowing who your friends are, you'll love House of Suns.