Blue Remembered Earth: Poseidon’s Children Book 1, Alistair Reynolds (Penguin Group/Gollancz 2012)

(Science Fiction)

Grade: Β — (Beta) 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:

Blue Remembered Earth: Poseidon’s Children Book 1 is the newest novel by Alistair Reynolds, and while for him it is an average outing, for most anyone else it is a wonderful read. Set in the relatively near future, it tells the tale of Geoffrey and Sunday Akinya, members of a remarkably wealthy family of industrialists from what in this book used to be Tanzania. The story tells how they try to uncover a series of clues left by their eccentric and recently departed grandmother, whose exploration and industry created the family wealth. Yet such a description totally fails to do justice to this remarkable book.  It is exciting, intriguing, imaginative and as with most of Reynolds’ works, scientifically plausible.[1]

Setting:

This solar system, in the year 2162: with most of the action taking place in Africa, on the Moon and Mars.

In Depth:

Blue Remembered Earth goes to show that unlike some author’s Alistair Reynolds’ skills and imagination keeps growing.  Without a doubt, his writing continues to improve and as this series (for it is a series, even though this book could readily stand alone) progresses, I may come back and mark up this grade.  Really, the characters of this book are quite compelling, and the world he envisions holds all the beautiful blend imagination and science one has come to expect from him.

Unfortunately, this is a book about characters, setting and ideas; indeed mostly about ideas.  To that end, the plot reads a bit like a “Boys Own Adventure” tale, with a somewhat predictable outcome, particularly if you are a fan of Reynolds.  Having said that, the characters are, for the most part, very sympathetic and the settings Reynolds’ creates are among some of the most realistically imaginative he has yet come up with.[2]

The story opens with a prologue in which Geoffrey and Sunday Akinya are children exploring the areas off of their family estate.  Nearby they know a large lone bull elephant is wandering, but the “Mechanism” keeps them alerted to its whereabouts.  Soon, they uncover something, a war machine from some old conflict, controlled by an Artelect, an artificial intelligence (AI) of very high ability now prohibited by the world governments.  I won’t go any farther, because even though this is just the prologue and just sets up the world and characters of the tale, the little bit here is a very exciting story.

Instead, here I will note is the key to Alistair Reynolds: he creates a gripping little short story-ish prologue that beautifully sets up the world and everything one really really needs to know about it in a few pages that also serves as a fantastic story in its own right.  Oh you could pass by this prologue and get the information revealed to one as the book progresses, yet in this prologue the nature of the world and the core relationships of the book are revealed and given depth. [3]  This little episode of a tale forms a deeper understanding to that characters, world and story than one could not get in a hundred pages of writing from most authors.

The next chapter, the first proper chapter of the novel, opens with our protagonists as adults, each having fallen from grace with the rest of the large and powerful family they are a part of. Even so, when the powerful and eccentric matriarch of their family dies, the siblings find themselves in the possession of a safety deposit box on the Moon, and what they find within sets them on an adventure to try to unravel the mystery that was their grandmother.

Put like that, this book sounds a bit like a midgrade reader, and in one sense it is.  That is, I suppose, why this book doesn’t qualify as among Reynolds’ best.  The motivation of two adults who have been following professional careers, one of whom is apathetic to his family legacy, does not really hold up for about half of the book. Indeed, the hardest bit of sustaining disbelief in this story is not the fantastic science fiction world Reynolds creates, but rather the fact that the characters make some of the choices they do.

If one can overcome that however, the ideas in this book, both imaginative and thematic, really do make up for it. For this story not only explores an exciting and imaginative world based on real physics,[4] it simultaneously examines human nature and the ramifications of a post-need society.  What is more, his actual word-smithing in this book shows marked improvement over his earlier works, and that’s saying something because they were pretty darned good right from his first book.

To that end, Blue Remembered Earth serves as a great addition to Alistair Reynolds’ bibliography and creates a great introduction to a series that I truly look forward to reading. It’s exciting, imaginative, and thoughtful all at the same time.  A very good book by one of my favorite authors.


[1] Well… for the most part.  There are some hand-wavium physics involved at the end.  More notably, there is a wee problem with the effects of changing water pressure on the human body as one changes depths beneath the ocean… but we’ll forgive that for now.

[2] Having said that, I would highly recommend to NOT read this book within the same year as having read Terminal World.  One can tell that many of the ideas in Terminal World were come up with as a side effect of the ideas he generated in this book, even though they are clearly different.  To that end, some of the luster of Reynolds’ vivid imagination may be lost if you read these two books one after the other.

[3] So, despite the fact I said you could pass the prologue by, don’t.  Really really don’t.

[4] There is a part of the tale that takes place underwater where the effects of pressure on the human body would as depicted in the story would cause some serious problems considering the rapidity with which characters change depth and water pressure, but hey… I pretended some element of nano-biotech was at play.

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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 Chronicle, Hard SciFi, Near Future fic, Part of A Series but can be Read without reading previous volumes, Science Fiction, Series, Space Exploration, Stand Alone Novel, Strong Characters, Thoughtful, Uncategorized, Unique or Imaginative World, World and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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