"Few SF writers merge rousing adventure with advanced futuristic technology as skillfully as Alastair Reynolds" (Toronto Star), the award-winning author of On the Steel Breeze. In the conclusion of his Poseidon's Children saga, the Akinya family receives an invitation from across the stars - and a last opportunity to redeem their name.... "Send Ndege". The cryptic message originated 70 light-years away from the planet Crucible, where Ndege Akinya lives under permanent house arrest for her role in the catastrophe that killed 417,000 people. Could it be from her mother, Chiku, who vanished during a space expedition decades earlier? Ndege's daughter, Goma, a biologist, joins the crew of the Travertine dispatched to Gliese 163 to uncover the source behind the enigmatic message. Goma's odyssey will take her not only into the farthest reaches of space but centuries into her family's past, where the answers to the universe's greatest mysteries await....
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Poseidon’s Wake is the 3rd installment of Alastair Reynold’s Poseidon’s Children trilogy. This installment is several hundred years after volume 2 with Crucible now a functioning planet. The Watchkeepers have rendered interstellar travel risky, but a “message” from an uninhabited star system directed at a specific Akinya launches a 140 year voyage to solve the mystery. At the same time, another Akinya back in the Earth system aligns with the machines from Mars to investigate. The mystery surrounding Eunice, Chiku, and Dakota is revealed as well as background on the Watchkeepers and the 2nd alien race that built the mandala.
The sci-fi elements expand the elephant intelligence theme as well as building on the Eunice artificial intelligence, now rendered into actual flesh and blood. The Watchkeepers are revealed as a type of zombie intelligence with consciousness. Much of the sci-fi revolves around the varying manifestations of intelligence. But the truly mind bending aspect is an exploration of the fundamental laws of physics that offer the possibility of meaningless existence since everything could wink out as a result of quantum flux. There are hints at actually attempting to reverse engineer the laws of the universe to eliminate this threat. This is a hard listen on many levels. The fundamental science fiction is philosophically engrossing, but the plodding nature of plot development along with unengaging characters can become tiresome. The fundamental structure of Reynold’s universe is based on futuristic dominance by Africa that was never sufficiently detailed. North and South America do not exist, Europe has been reduced to just Lisbon, and China merely garners a single representative who is now a whale, while Chinese is sometimes the alternate language. Humanity is basically a hive, not a hive mind, but just a hive. Akinya women are the queen bees, while Akinya men are the male drones supporting the queens, with the rest of humanity reduced to worker bees. Everything in existence has derived from Akinya women from business and economics by Eunice, art by Sunday, and science by Ndigi, working under house arrest at her kitchen table. There’s one Russian operating as a hit man with no motivation for his actions. The Lin Wei conversion to a whale renders her a type of hermit living in a cave that somehow people derive wisdom by just talking to her.
Then there’s the fascination with “tantors” which are just genetically enhanced elephants. There is an almost atavistic obsession with a Kafka-esque man creating God quality with sycophantic worship to the point that one tantor equates to thousands of human. At the same time, a small splinter group is so terrified of tantors, there is a willingness to stage a suicide mission to kill them off the on chance they happen to be found. The proposed rationale justifying this behavior as due to man’s treatment of elephant seems hardly reasonable since horses have probably been treated worse and cows were raised merely for food. Despite the length, the Earth system is inadequately detailed to understand the terrorists and the consolidation.
The characters are annoyingly tiresome. Eunice is an obnoxious, narcissistic Forrest Gump who manages to create who technologies and economies merely by changing her socks. Goma and Ru are constantly morphing all the time except for their tantor obsession and Carno who begins as a diplomat, somehow becomes a science and techno geek. Finally, the notion that if a smart alien intelligence reveals the underlying physics of the universe can be proven to be meaningless because it can end at any moment would somehow be readily believed and then induce depression and catatonia is a bit far-fetched.
The narration is the final element that is troublesome. While accurately rendered with realistic African accents, the melodic trilling and rolling of every “r” will either be favorably enjoyed or quickly become tiresome and straining. There’s also little gender distinction except for the non-African accented characters. Finally, just as a cinematic ceiling fan indicates higher ambient temperature by spinning slower, the more intelligent, especially the elephants, the slower the speech which simply drags everything out.
There's something admirably simple about this trilogy, especially when you zoom out and look at the romantic bird's eye view, but something about its storytelling method just doesn't sit right with me.
The trilogy was rendered for us as a long string of montages between rather sparse events. Time and attention went into every scene, but it's all just characters standing around, with no ability to act on what little information they have. Subplots spring up everywhere, and turn out to be completely pointless as soon as the story moves on. The only result is that the character personalities are colored just slightly. Even the events that are at the heart of the story come off strangely. A transmission sent across 70 lightyears just for fun apparently, a sabotage plot that exists for essentially no reason, and of course the centerpiece of the whole series, Poseidon itself, completely ignored by the cast, even at the culmination of events.
The only reason the story has any purpose at all is because Eunice's character regularly forces narrative on the reader in the form of random conjecture, covering topics such as the Watchkeepers, Poseidon and its wonders, what the Endbuilders's must have intended for the universe, their solution to a universe-scale issue, what Poseidon must represent for other species. As a reader, it's all so hollow that you start to see through it rather quickly.
This story, most of all, communicated the uniqueness of everyone's relationships with other characters, and there are a couple of magnificent scenes that were likely At the core of Reynolds's vision for the story, and yet somehow all of the characters come up short in my view. They all say the predictable thing. They all complain in the expected manner. They offer each other perfectly reasonable but highly mundane comforts. They seem to act and think in a contextual vacuum, as if every scene was written independently, somehow only vaguely influenced by events that literally just took place.
When the story is somehow most vulnerable and begging for plot advancement, it's given to us in some supremely bizarre anti-"deux ex machina", something that puts a wrench in the whole story just so that the story should go where Reynolds imagined it should. Mpose's role, Kanu's ship damaged around Poseidon, the use of nanomachinery, the sabotage plot, Eunice's ability to send a message across 70 ly of space and yet can't produce a signal strong enough to contact a ship in the same system, Eunice's alarmingly selective loss of memory any time she might actually be useful... all of it exists just to give texture to something that is frankly quite boring. These are all just loose ends that I guess Reynolds thought there was no reason to tie back into the story, and none of the characters seem to notice.
As a fan of Reynolds, I don't begrudge him the time and effort that he put into this trilogy. The idea for the whole thing must have been infectious, consuming his attention. Now that he's finished it, I'll be happy to see him turn to other stories.