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Taking the history he created in ‘Blue Remembered Earth’ forward another generation, Alastair Reynolds succeeds in teasing the reader’s interest in the alien mystery waiting at the end of a 200-year old journey, but keeps the scope of events surprisingly restrained for an author known to write in cosmic epochs that laugh at stacks of expired civilizations. Again, he keeps his dramatic perspective on one single family, which can really be said to in fact be one person, duplicated across three cloned bodies who occasionally synchronize their mind states. This concept I found fun, and made for some interesting moments as the separate lives of our tri-fold protagonist, Chiku Akinya, reconciled herselves with the existence of multiple husbands/lovers and families at either end of her dual lives. There is also some great world building here within one of the main settings for the action, the asteroid-sized holoship traveling as part of a caravan to a new and promising alien world. Reynolds, in 2001’s "Chasm City", has previously written about a rivalry between en-route colony generation ships which violently escalates once the prize comes into sight, but with much more believability here. The other two setting loci, Earth and the destination world of Crucible, both have similar challenges for the Chiku heroines in the form of an all-powerful artificial intelligence willing to kill in order to ensure it’s own survival. Like Chiku, this intelligence, Arachne, has been cloned across two distant star systems, but these have remained un-syncronized, and have begun to drift apart in their thinking towards humanity.
The story has well-paced action scenes that don’t rush in too close together, and characters that are compelling to follow, though a bit too saintly and flawless, I felt. I think a reader who hasn’t read the earlier story would feel unsatisfied with this one, and clearly too many questions remain unanswered to give up on ready the series now.
Adjoa Andoh’s narration is impressive for it’s commitment to thickly, haltingly accented English coming from a variety of multi-national characters, but being impressive is not the same as being enjoyable. Whether it’s the baseline Swahili accent of the protagonist, the guttural fish-man accent from the aquatic mer-people, the crafty old lady variant of the earlier swahili accent (this one used for no less than 3 characters), I found them all just a little too over-the-top. I’m sure I’m revealing my own anglocentric cultural bias here, but my ear just needed a rest from the added work of mentally decoding every spoken word. The final straw for me was the dual accent-fail for Chiku’s two significant others, Lucas and Pedro. I want to write about how offensively bad they both are, but I… just.. can’t listen to that exaggerated Texas drawl or caricature Mexican again. Let me instead just stick to my complementary remarks, however- and it’s genuinely the case that Andoh makes a very ambitious effort which must have been quite exhausting, and I know I have no such talent at all.
9 of 10 people found this review helpful
Would you consider the audio edition of On the Steel Breeze to be better than the print version?
The written version is better in this instance. African Flute music after a dramatic scene bringing up the next chapter is a little contrived.
What was one of the most memorable moments of On the Steel Breeze?
The Saturn tragedy was interesting.
How did the narrator detract from the book?
Charlie Chan Chinese accent. Slavic (Russian?) accent that sounds like Kate Mulgrew on "Orange is the new Black". Disparate California Hispanic Cholo accent. Tom Brokaw flat American accent. Broken Australasian. Pleasant, emotive, soft RP English. South African accent while thick seems authentic compared to native speakers I've heard. So many different accents - while admirably attempted - were just overwhelmingly distracting. I'd rather have heard an emotive soft RP English accent with conviction than a mangled, harsh, Charlie Chan Chinese screech.
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
Not possible - Reynolds is a long-haul operatic proposition.
Any additional comments?
When a companion character died - I was glad. Only because that broken Cholo accent would never have to be heard again.
7 of 8 people found this review helpful