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 fact, in this case, I was tempted to give this an Alpha rating, but decided that individuals who actively disliked Science Fiction would quite possibly not appreciate this book. More’s their loss though…
House of Suns is the award winning novel by one of my favorite authors, Alistair Reynolds. As with many of his works, it combines mystery with Science Fiction. This time, however, Reynolds does something I hadn’t seen before: combining Hard Science Fiction with an Ultratech thriller. Well, okay not really hard, but it does tend to avoid handwavium and address fundamental principles of physics. I read this book in about a week (which when you consider I am a full-time Dad, is a remarkably short period) and would highly recommend it to anyone who likes Science Fiction or high stakes thrillers.
House of Suns is set millions of years in the future. Though many apparently impossible technological advances exist (artificial gravity, Immortality, etc.) there are certain key elements of physics that cannot be overcome (Speed of Light).
Set in a world that is more reminiscent of Iain M. Banks than Reynolds normal fare, House of Suns demonstrates that Reynolds is a writer who pushes his own envelope and works outside of his comfort zone. While this is not my favorite of his books (see my review of the Prefect), I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It had an interesting narrative, very cool ideas throughout and an exciting story line.
The technology and science fiction of this story never failed to live up to the high level I expect from Reynolds, yet the most innovative element of House of Suns was its use of twinned First Person narrative techniques. Reynolds used a multi-perspective Point-Of-View that switched between three people. Two of these were the main characters, male and female clones of the same person, complete with the recorded memories of that individual’s past. The third POV is used less frequently and is that of the original woman whose memories are shared all of her thousand ‘children.’ Whether this individual is actually also one of the two protagonists is left up to the reader to decide, though in one sense since the memories are shared, one could suppose she is both.
Yet beyond the form of the telling, the function of it was also enjoyable. The book remained a very exciting story, though it did suffer from a few tell tale faults that are becoming slightly more apparent in Reynolds’ books. There are some unfired guns left hanging in this book, including a murder than occurs early on in the narrative. More importantly, there are other story elements that are touched upon so many times that they telegraphed the ending. Had the author instead mentioned them once or twice, the reader would have gotten the point. Instead, I personally feel that one can’t help but see where the story is going due to over emphasis of them through the text. Of course, my wife always tells me I see the endings far too quickly, so maybe it’s just me.
Regardless, these are relatively minor quips and I enjoyed the book a great deal. Indeed, I remain interested to see if sequels follow.