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By Ryan on 06-20-14
Cerebral, Banksian space opera
3.5 stars. This is hard sci-fi space opera in the same wheelhouse as the works of Iain M. Banks or Peter Hamilton, featuring uber-advanced cultures that operate on a galactic scale in a distant future. While my last Reynolds (Revelation Space) experience left me a bit "meh", I enjoyed this one, which calls to mind the high points of the two aforementioned authors.
The story takes place millions of years in the future, and concerns two mostly-human "shatterlings", who are part of an extended family engineered from the genetic stock of one single, long-ago ancestor. The shatterlings roam the vastness of space (at less than the speed of light), doing various good deeds and observing the rise and fall of civilizations, their own lives prolonged by their ability to go into stasis for long periods of time. Every 200,000 years or so, though, the members of the line come together for a grand reunion, to party, swap stories, and share what they've learned. Not a bad setup at all.
The two protagonists, Campion and Purslane, are on their way to just such a reunion when they get sidetracked and acquire a new passenger, a golden robot named Hesperus (whose persona harkens back to Asimov’s classic robots). Their lateness permits them to escape a massacre of the gathered, which leaves few survivors. From there, the novel becomes a sort of cerebral thriller in space, the protagonists working to solve the mystery of who wants to wipe out their line, while playing cat-and-mouse with various enemies and trying to understand certain strange beings. There’s also a thread concerning the line founder, her experiences in a fantasy virtual reality world that begins to take over her mind, and what motivated her to “shatter” herself.
This brand of science fiction tends to be heavier on science, ideas, and the gears of the plot than it is on storytelling, psychological depth, or thematic richness, and, though there are a few exceptions (Dune, Hyperion, and A Fire Upon the Deep come to mind), House of Suns isn’t one of them. It’s a shame that Reynolds didn’t go deeper with his premise and explore his protagonists’ inner lives with all those millions of years passing around them. Also, some developments seemed a little unbelievable, owing to the common sci-fi problem of “if they’re advanced enough to do X, can’t they do Y?” There’s a lot of hand-waving where technology is concerned. (WTF is a homunculus weapon? Who knows.)
But if you enjoy geeking out on wormholes, machine sentience, nanotechnology, Matrix-esque virtual realities, relativistic time dilation, and the possibility of godlike higher beings lurking behind the universe, and want to see an author spin a story from these things, House of Suns is smart, well-executed hard sci-fi. I also found the characters more likable than those of Revelation Space. While I prefer my science fiction to be a little more on the literary side, some readers will appreciate a novel that dispenses of any such pretensions and gives us the spaceships and robots straight-up.
The audiobook production is fairly good, though it left a few things to be desired. On one hand, John Lee has the control to read all the astrobabble in the story without being cheesy; on the other, his protagonists sound pretty similar. It took me a little while to realize that there were two main points of view, though who’s speaking becomes obvious once you grasp the contextual hints.
I haven’t read enough of Reynolds’s other books to make a comparison, but I think this is a perfectly good starting point if you want to see what the buzz is about.
29 of 30 people found this review helpful
By Ethan M. on 05-12-10
Science fiction in Deep time
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.
70 of 77 people found this review helpful
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Ron on 09-11-09
House of suns
Excellent story well read, money well spent.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
By Nick on 06-01-10
Reynolds gets better and better
Alastair Reynolds publishes books with such a rapidity it is truly astonishing that each is so good. He has certainly become one of the great masters of Space Opera. He is consistently brilliant unlike the erratic Iain M Banks who only has flashes of Sci-Fi brilliance.
House of Suns proved to be an excellent, involving read which is intriguingly and shrewdly paced and plotted. And it is read with a great sympathy for his style of writing - great to hear a British voice for a British novelist - which adds to the enjoyment.
I never got far beyond the first fifty pages reading the novel but this recording engaged much more quickly and it just got better every page. I do hope they'll go back and record 'Century Rain' now with the same narrator
9 of 10 people found this review helpful
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Anonymous User on 06-25-18
this was a really good listen. I imagine that I'll be listening to this a few more times just to register all the detail.
By Anonymous User on 05-09-18
Just added more of Alastair to my wishlist
Some really memorable moments. I liked the concept of galaxy wide civilisations obeying time dilation.