Friday, 27 August 2010

"House of Suns" by Alastair Reynolds

During my recent journey around the world, I caught up on a lot of reading. I don't usually think of myself as a fan of space opera. I think of it as something I'm not often in the mood to enjoy. Looking back, it seems like I've been in the mood often enough, as I made my way through the works of Ken Macleod ("The Star Fraction", The "Engines of Light" trilogy and others not reviewed here) and Iain M. Banks ("Player of Games", "Use of Weapons", "Against a Dark Background", "Excession", "Consider Phlebas", "Look to Windward", "Inversions, "Feersum Endjinn", "The Algebraist" and "Matter").

I had skimmed portions of Alastair Reynolds' work in bookstores in the past, but was never hooked until I finally took the chance and bought "House of Suns". I wasn't disappointed.

"House of Suns" tells the story of "the lines", families of a thousand clones of the same individual, who began life with a shared set of memories, and who set out to explore the galaxy. They reunite every hundred thousand years or so to exchange their memories over the course of a thousand nights. The telling takes three years and (owing to relativistic effects and the distances they must cover), it takes ten to twenty years for everyone to assemble. That the equivalent of a family reunion takes ten or more years is a sign of how long members of the line live and the time scale they operate in. These are explorers who plot wide arcs in both space and time.

Into this already interesting base Reynolds throws familiar but well-handled material such as forgotten civilizations, machine intelligences, conspiracy, treason, and murder. To dwell on any of it in great detail would be a disservice. Suffice to say it's an enjoyable mix of hard Sci-fi and drama and a fairly short read (as space operas go). I found it a good introduction to Reynolds' work and worth checking out.

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