Century Rain, Alistair Reynolds (ACE Books/Gollancz)

Century Rain cover

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Grade: Β — Fantastic book within the genre, probably worth reading regardless of which genre’s you like, but has a setting or style that may not appeal to individuals who are not fans of a given genre. 

In brief:

The first non-Revelation Space novel published by Reynolds, Century Rain is set in a universe that at first glance seems similar to his more famous ‘verse.  This is, in some ways unfortunate because it sets expectations that erroneous.  This is a totally separate story, a gritty, noir, espionage novel set in a pocket universe.  It takes a different direction and tone from his earlier works and shows signs of Reynolds stretching his muscles in a manner that I found highly enjoyable. 


Paris, Earth, three hundred years in the future, with the bulk of the story occurring in a pocket universe alternate history 1950’s Paris where the German’s never invaded (it makes sense, really.  No, no… really).

In Depth:

This is not Reynold’s best work, but it is very good and if you go into this book without expectations of what it will be, I think that you will enjoy it tremendously. Century Rain is essentially a noir espionage novel of the Cold War variety, with nanotech death machines and wormholes to give it a new twist. 

Century Rain is not a space opera, it’s a noir espionage thriller that has more in common with Graham Green than with Isaac Asimov.  Yes it is Science Fiction, yes it has some of Reynold’s trademark use of nanotech in gritty hard sci-fi setting, but in truth, it reads like a classic era spy story set somewhere between pre-War and the Cold War.  That’s because in truth, it is.  In fact, it is in part a commentary on gritty noir espionage… so much so that some of the finer points may be lost on those who are not fans of the genre.

After the Earth is destroyed by the Nanocaust, the surviving factions still struggle for dominance.  Some still hope to return the Earth to a habitable world, but others have taken a different approach: the creation of an alternate Earth whose time line is set in the 1950’s, but whose technology is stuck in the 1930s.  There are other differences as well; the German invasion of France failed, Hitler was deposed, and somewhere in this mess, there is an ultra-tech weapon that could destroy both worlds. 

With a description like that, one might expect a total action thriller, but that’s not what you get.  Neither is it what Reynold’s was aiming for, but many critiques of this book don’t seem to have understood that. They either expected a dark and gritty high-techno-thriller like Revelation Space or an action spy thriller James Bond.  This book book is neither.  It has the slow steady pace and intellectual intrigue of an espionage novel, not a spy thriller, an espionage novel.  Go back and read The Third Man, The Thirty-Nine Steps, or any of LeCarré’s works and you’ll see what I mean. 

That’s not to say that this book is without action… it’s got that in spades. It’s just that it is paced differently than you find in the Borne Identity.  It’s more like Hitchcock, and less like Spielberg. If you are a thoughtful reader with a bit of nostalgia for a good Cold War spy story with a nanodeath twist, I think you’ll enjoy this as much as I did.

About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
This entry was posted in Alternate History, Crime Thriller, Espionage, Hard SciFi, Mystery, Post Modern, Ripping Yarn, Science Fiction, Spy Thriller, Stand Alone Novel, Strong Characters, Thoughtful, Unique or Imaginative World and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Century Rain, Alistair Reynolds (ACE Books/Gollancz)

  1. Charlie says:

    Great review! But I’m torn. I like the sound of a gritty, noir, espionage novel set 300 years in the future, but 1950’s Paris, not so much.

      • Charlie says:

        Why? Probably because I lack of frame of reference for 50s Paris. When you say noir and gritty hard sci-fi setting I think Blade Runner…great! But when you say Paris in the 50’s and Germany in the same line my brain discounts the alternate history (which I’m sure is key) and goes straight to Casablanca (which of course wasn’t set in Paris or the 50s) and ‘Allo, ‘Allo! (which was set in Paris, but not the 50s). In the US the 50s were poodle skirts and Elvis. None of that meshes with gritty future-set sci-fi noir in my mind, so I’m left with some ambivalence. My conclusion, I must read more widely. Century Rain must now go on my TBR list.

      • Thomas Evans says:

        Fair ’nuff. I love to see someone who rises to a challange.

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