Not every science fiction novel, especially recent ones, have their own Wikipedia entry. Is that a good thing? My latest read does, which I checked after finishing the book earlier this afternoon.
I really want to really like Alastair Reynolds’ books. But while I find them better than most sf published these days, I still think there’s better work in this author. I thought his last novel, Blue Remembered Earth, was a fun travelogue, but I wondered where his roaming characters were going to end up. And maybe there were a few too many ideas crammed into the book, and not enough time to develop relationships and lay out why people were doing what they were doing.
On The Steel Breeze takes the reader to a few new places: Venus, Saturn’s moon Hyperion (briefly), and into hollowed out asteroids on their way to a planet circling the star 61 Virginis. And there’s some mystery at the planet, which provides both menace throughout the novel and ultimately this reader’s disappointment.
We see these vistas through the eyes of a descendant of a character in previous novel–her, and her two clones. There’s somewhat less natural wonder in this book, as the main antagonist is machine intelligence, both human-made and alien. Which one will be the bad guy?
The narrative spreads out over two centuries. The thing about human beings when they live for two-hundred-plus years is that they still act like young adults or people in mid-life crises. What does it mean for the personal relationships for a person to live so long? Is extremely long life just a larger platform for self-indulgence? I’d like to think that in a second century of life, an older person will have settled into wisdom. At least a little bit. The old characters in these books–not always what they seem, by the way–seem quite petty at times.
Maybe I’m being picky–I did like how the author handled his lead characters, two of them, anyway. How can two clones share things of their lives when separated by twenty light years? That makes for an interesting exchange of experiences and consciousness.
Ultimately, human beings begin to arrive at 61 Virginis, and bad things happen. A magic pill (literally) saves the day. The ending for one sub-plot resolved quite well–maybe that should have been the core idea for this novel and it would have improved the book significantly. As it is, the machine intelligence seemed just a little too random to me, and the resolution a little too neat.
I think Paul McAuley handles this kind of material a little bit better–his palette of characters is larger. I think both authors suffer from padding in the plots. On The Steel Breeze is a story that could have been told more tightly–it does lag here and there. This is the middle book of a trilogy, so I hear. Maybe the seemingly unnecessary alien machines have a role to play later. If so, they could have been consigned to book three.
Still, this was an above-average science fiction novel. I don’t foresee it being an award-winner or a movie. But it’s far from junk.