Chasm City, Alistair Reynolds (Gollancz, 2001)

Chasm City

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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:

Chasm City is Alistair Reynolds’ second book, and though set in his Revelation Space universe, it is a stand alone novel in its own right. It follows the story of a man hell bent on revenge and his journey through a post nano-apcolyptic technogoth world.  It is marvelously dark story that in many ways epitomizes the best elements of New Space Opera (particularly Space Opera Noir). While those who actively dislike Science Fiction may not enjoy this book, if one is at all interested in exploring modern Sci-Fi, this book is a good tale to start with.  


The story takes place in Reynold’s Revelation Space Universe, a Hard Science Fiction world where interstellar travel exists, but is limited by Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. To that end, space travel takes huge amounts of time, and is only endurable through stasis and time dilation. Humanity lives across a handful of star systems, and is tremendously divided by the different branches of humanity, branches that are in no small part defined by access to and attitudes towards technology.

Much of the book itself takes place in Chasm City – a domed habitation on the otherwise inhospitable planet of Yellowstone.  Once a technological wonder of known space, the city has been devastated by a nanotech plague of unknown origin that has left it a nightmarish world.  Large portions of the rest of the story are also told through both memory and hallucinatory flashbacks that take place on the technologically ‘backwards’ world of Sky’s Edge[1] and on board a generation ship headed to the aforementioned world.

In Depth:

I truly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it to anyone who interested in seeing some of the best that modern Science Fiction has to offer.  I did not give it an Alpha rating solely because I think that those who dislike Science Fiction will find the story overwhelming in its use of techno-wizardry.  Even those individuals I would suggest might enjoy giving it a try. 

Chasm City‘s first person narrative is a weave of ‘present,’ near past and distant past storylines. It follows the story of a man hellbent on revenge, who trails his foe to Yellowstone, a world known as one of the technological wonders of human space.  Unfortunately a disaster has struck Yellowstone and it has fallen from ultratech extravagance to Techno-Gothic horror.  The once glorious circle of space stations known as the Glitterband has collapsed into a crumbling police state, and the even more devastated domed metropolis below: Chasm City. 

As the story leads our protagonist through the planetary city’s post-modern urban decay, Reynolds reveals the events that led up to the man-hunt through an interesting plot device that allows him to stay in the first-person while witnessing events that occurred long ago.  I won’t go too much into it, since that could serve as a spoiler, but his mechanics hold up despite the severe strain he gives them.  In the end, both the story and the manner of its telling held me well in the grips of this story.  I truly enjoyed the tale.

It is also worth noting how this book fits into the other various narratives of Reynolds’ Revelation Space Universe. In fact, it was this universe that caused me to write the article on Seriation (see Definition of Terms page), since it was his works that strained my abilities of description when asked by readers “Which of Reynolds’ books is the first one?  Which should I start with?”

While this was his second novel, it both predates (in some portions) and takes place simultaneously (in others) with parts of his first (Revelation Space) within his world’s chronology.  It also postdates The Prefect, Reynolds’ fifth book in the Revelation Space Series, but one need not read any of his other books to enjoy this one.  It is completely self-contained.  For those who enjoy the World, however, this book adds greatly to its tapestry both by filling out details of two of the centrally important planets:Yellowstone and Sky’s Edge.  

So, to round it up: a great read for anyone who likes Science Fiction, a MUST READ for anyone who likes Revelation Space.  To that end, if you wanted to try out Reynolds but not feel a need to get hooked into a Serial, you might want to start here.

[1] Though still technologically advance by our standards.

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 Crime Thriller, Cyberpunk, Cycle, Hard SciFi, Identity, Mystery, New Space Opera, Post Modern, Ripping Yarn, Science Fiction, Series, Space Exploration, Stand Alone Novel, Strong Characters, Thoughtful, Ultratech, Unique or Imaginative World, World and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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