Science Fiction Though the Decades

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

2012: Blue Remembered Earth (Reynolds, Alastair)

Optimistic tale of humanity's collective potential (4/5)

Reynolds has always set himself apart from other science fiction authors by widening the scope of the plot to the nth degree, by infusing the setting with richness and depth, and by marbling all of this with awe-inducing science and technology. Akin to Revelation Space and House of Suns, Blue Remembered Earth proves he still has the gift for exhibiting unique ideas, penning an intriguing story, and capturing the imagination of the reader. It's not his best work, but it's definitely the great beginning to a surely great series.

At the end of the year 2161, after sixty years of solitude orbiting the moon, the empress to a solar system-wide company passes away. Her genetic legacy includes one pair of grandchildren, Geoffrey, who studies elephants on the African plains, and Sunday, who pursues sculpture in the Descrutinized Zone on the moon, away from the patrolling omniscient eye of the Mechanism. Controlling the interests in the family company are their cousins Hector and Lucas, who have a frosty relationship with Geoffry and Sunday. Once into 2162, the cousins bribe Geoff into traveling to the moon in order to recover the contents of a safe-deposit box once belonging to their wealthy and reclusive grandmother, Eunice. With agreement not to meet his sister when he's on the moon, Geoff breaks this treaty by visiting her enclave in order to unravel the mystery behind the contents of the box: a antique spacesuit glove which holds yet another mystery... colored gems.

Earth in the year 2162, as stylized by Reynolds, is one of African prosperity born from decline of the unmentioned Western nations and where humanity is recovering from the symptoms of a century of global warming. Pages 148-149 outline a post-warming earth, where sea levels had risen and were combated with seawalls, where the Sahara had extended its arid grip upon the continent, where depopulation had been enforced, where where humanity now derives its energy from deep-penetration geothermal tap and solar arrays spanning the globe, efficient transmission accomplished by superconducting cables. Once ill-weather regions of the earth now harvest grapes and produce fine wines, such as Patagonia, Iceland, and Mongolia. In contrast to this great human revival to calamity, there has been an unheard of decline in crime because of the nearly worldwide Mechanism, which uses algorithms to predict human behavior... each person with an augmentation connected to this incorruptible sentinel:

"Murder isn't impossible, even in 2162... Because the Mechanism wasn't infallible, and even this tirelessly engineered god couldn't be in all places at once. The Mandatory Enhancements were supposed to weed out the worst criminal tendencies from developing minds... it was inevitable that someone... would slip through the mesh." (278)

The plot has a feel similar to Chasm City and The Prefect, where a mystery is unraveled step-by-step in order to find the nexus of "what it all means." Jumping from the shadows of Kilimanjaro, to the lunar cityscapes, to the underwater expanse of the Panspermian Initiative, to the still inhospitable Martian atmosphere, and beyond... the scope of action on these and other settings is enough to please any space opera fan. Chuck in a few wholesome bits of orbital technology, mind transference technology, and a few spaceships - bam, what more could a hard sci-fi fan long for?

Plot aside, there is a core of characters which is tightly woven, numbering around six. It's easy to keep track of the ongoings, but when you start to toss in some far-flung family lineage, some transient personages, some representatives of human sects, and some semi-sentient corporal golem figures... you may need to keep a list if you're going to take more than three days to read this tome. A tome it may be, but it's not without its peppering of poetic prose:

"It was mid-afternoon and cloudless, the sky preposterously blue and infinite, as if it reached all the way to Andromeda rather than being confined within the indigo cusp he had seen from space." (154-155)

Nor it is without its share of humor, if you know your history of Mars in fiction: one character thinks the Martian city of Robinson is named after the novel Robinson Crusoe. The dialogue is less than airy at times, something Reynolds has been guilty of ever since Revelation Space. At times it's dry and recapitalizing. There's more swearing here than in his other novels, which is fine by my. Again, one more fault I found is a similar in fault to Chasm City: the unraveling is too convenient, the timing too auspicious, the clues too quickly understood, the backpedaling too awkward (i.e. the Phoboes Monolith).

It's not as preciously crafty as The Prefect or as expansive as Redemption Ark (my favorite Revelation Space novel), but Reynold's doesn't disappoint with Blue Remembered Earth- an optimistic tale of humanity's collective potential on the earth we live and on the orbiting bodies we will settle, develop, and prosper upon.

No comments:

Post a Comment