by Alistair Reynolds
A book review by Mark L. Olson
Victor Gollancz, 2000, 476 pp, £17.99
This is Alastair Reynolds' first book and it's a doozey. Perhaps more than any other I've read, it's a perfect example of Baroque Hard SF -- hard SF with lots of lovely complexity and lots of cool things.
The story is set 500 or so years from now in a world where humanity has colonized dozens of nearby star systems using very good slower-than-light drives. The colonies are linked together by the Ultras -- cyborged humans who use nanotech on themselves as well as on their ships. The Ultras are pretty much a bunch of loners, each (small) crew an independent and very powerful group.
The main character is an archeologist who is exploring a newly discovered planet to learn what destroyed its promising civilization a million years ago. He runs the planet as the head of the very large expedition which has more-or-less colonized the planet.
That's the simple part. What's also happening is: A crew of Ultras is chasing the archeologist to get him to use the recording he has of is father's mind to cure their captain who is being devoured by a nanotech disease. The Ultras are also being bothered by an alien mentality which has taken up residence in their weapons computers and is driving the weapons specialists mad. The archeologist was overthrown by a group of dissidents who want to terraform the planet, not study it, and has been in jail for 20 years. Humanity's highest nanotech has gone haywire due to a very nasty virus which has nearly wiped out human civilization. There is another entity who is probably human who is trying to stop the archeologist -- using any means necessary -- from studying the aliens. And that's just the beginning!
It's complicated, and very clever, and well-written, and it all hangs together -- even the Great Mystery which slowly builds up and is revealed at the end isn't a disappointment. This is an spectacular first novel.
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