In the year 3000, the wealthy Abigail Gentean, inspired by dreams of exploration and discovery, creates nine hundred and ninety-nine clones of herself. These “shatterlings” and her original self (indistinguishable from her duplicates) are subsequently dispersed to the far reaches of space – to colonize, investigate, learn and, eventually, meet up every two thousand years to share the memories they have gathered over the course of their travels. Some six million years after the Gentean line first left the Milky Way on their galaxy-spawning odysseys, two clone siblings, Campion and Purslane, enroute to one of these reunions, receive a troubling message. The gathering was ambushed by unknown forces and most of their numbers killed. Only the fact that Campion and Purslane were running late saved them from a similar fate.
Campion and Purslane must place their trust in an enigmatic ally, the amnesiac Hesperus, a robot of the machine people, if they have any hope of finding out why the Gentean Line has been marked for extermination. As it turns out, the shocking answer may lie with the mysterious House of Suns…
Alastair Reynolds is an author with an impressive academic background firmly rooted in science. To be honest, when I heard that he was a former research astronomer with the European Space Agency, I approached my first Alastair Reynolds novel with a certain amount of trepidation. Let me be frank. Most of the SF authors I’ve read who straddle the worlds of science and science fiction tend to come up short in certain key areas of story-telling – namely character, plotting, and a prose style that doesn’t have you skipping whole pages to get back on the narrative track. Still, having heard good things about Reynolds, I was cautiously optimistic when I started reading Revelation Space. Eventually, that cautious optimism turned to relief, then surprise, and, ultimately, utter delight. Revelation Space became a fast favorite because it delivered on so many of the levels I’d found wanting in other hard SF writers. As for House of Suns? Well, in my opinion, it’s even better.
One of the things I love about Reynolds’ books – and it’s a characteristic of the works of Iain M. Banks as well – is their ability to serve up BIG ideas: multi-century spanning narratives, inventive technologies, and unique takes on future/alien cultures. Lesser writers would be content with introducing one, maybe two such cool concepts and making them the center-point of the story. Reynolds throws about a dozen at you, each one helping to build the narrative in its own unique way, from the surrealistic game play of palatial to the Andromeda-dwelling First Machines and so much in between: the information-gathering beings known as The Vigilance, cloning and communal memory-sharing as a means to advancement, ever-evolving machine intelligence possessed of god-like abilities, vast solar system-containing devices known as stardams, the miraculous all-purpose aspic of machine, and, my personal favorite, the time dilated interrogation of prisoners.
Reynolds peoples his novel with interesting characters. I felt for both Campion and Purslane and was wholly invested in their stories although I had a particular affinity for Hesperus who was undergoing his own parallel journey of self-discovery. The one nitpick I had was with some of the supporting players, those surviving shatterlings, who, with a few exceptions (notably Mezereon and Betony), didn’t really distinguish themselves from one another. As a result, the reveal of the mole-in-their-midst wasn’t quite as powerful as it could have been.
Overall, the story was very well-paced, striking a perfect balance between the establishment of some fairly lofty concepts and timely plot advancement. The shifting point of view between Campion and Purslane in alternating chapters was admittedly damn confusing at first, but easy enough to follow once I’d caught on. And I found the Abigail storyline equally engaging.
I’ve heard some complain that they found the ending abrupt or anti-climactic. I disagree with the latter. I loved the fact that despite the building suspense, race against Cascade and Cadence, and looming spectre of vengeance for the mass genocide, the First Machines have developed to a point where they are beyond it. Their decision offers hope for all sentient beings, something that is reinforced in the book’s final moments. Yes, the ending is abrupt – but perfectly so. Campion is told that his lover has survived, housed within the protective gold sarcophagus created by Hesperus in a final act of sacrifice, and as he prepares to free her with the help of a descendant of the race his people almost wiped out, one can’t help but feel that sense of hope and anticipation, of looking forward to something long sought-after finally within reach, a sense of wonder that pervades House of Suns, perfectly distilled and crystallized in its closing paragraph:
“’Then I’ll help you,’the glass man said as my fingers du their useless nails into the fused seams of that golden mask. ‘After which, with regret, I shall have to be on my way.’”
Well, those were my initial thoughts. What did everyone else think? Weigh in with your thoughts and questions for author Alastair Reynolds!
Randomness writes: “Joe wouldn’t you say those aliens from Daedalus variations could just be a random alien race from another Galaxy that just so happened to come into conflict with Atlantis?”
Answer: Yes, that was the original conceit.
Chevron7 writes: “Joe, are we sure that the Joe Flanigan space suit incident was an accident? I suspect foul play.”
Answer: At the time, a straight-faced N. John Smith defending the crew member, insisting “It wasn’t malicious.”
sgugeek writes: “I know the cast is on holiday now, but if I mail my fan mail for Ashleigh today, will she get it?”
Answer: Not unless you post it on this blog and she happens to read it.
Michael writes: “1) I’ve read that SGU is moving to Tuesday but has the timeslot been announced?
2) I didn’t recognize Louis Ferreira in that robe and floppy hat, how the heck did he get past security?!
3) Why haven’t you done any commentary, the world needs to hear your genius!!”
Answers: 1) Not that I know of.
2) That was just one Friday. You should see what Jamil Walker Smith wears on a daily basis.
3) I’ll limit my genius to this blog, but thanks for asking.
afg1 writes: “So, then, as regards the SGA movie, there’s no point in you pushing for it until MGM gets better and the SG-1 movie gets made? Is that the idea?”
J. Chris Tucker writes: “Why are you and Paul credited as co-writers on scripts if you don’t actually co-write them?”
Answer: When we first started working on Stargate, we would write a script together, bouncing dialogue back and forth in the room. One of us paced while the other typed. Eventually, as we grew busier, we started working on the script separately, bouncing it back and forth between us. He would write a scene and send it my way. I would rewrite it and write the next scene. He would rewrite what I’d written and write the next scene and so on. Eventually, as we grew even more busy, we started writing scripts separately and merely doing final passes on each other’s drafts. Eventually, we just started writing our scripts separately. The reason we’re credited as co-writers is because while I’ve done mostly originals, Paul has done a fair amount of uncredited rewrites. And so, out of fairness (given that Paul is never credited or receives an extra script fee for what occasionally amounts to page one rewrites), we share the writing credits on the original scripts.
for the love of Beckett writes: “How long will Jelly be at the vet’s?”
Answer: She’s in all day tomorrow. I pick her up Wednesday, then bring her back in on Thursday for the stem cell injection.
otros ojos writes: “Hey, people better not mess with the octopus. (Just saying, based on what Jeffrey Ford’s psychic octopus did in The Drowned Life.)”
Angelus writes: “Judging from the Pineapple Diaries, Louis doesn’t seem very camera shy, Are there any cast members or have there been cast members who don’t like to be photographed and put in your blog?”
Answer: No, so far so good. I tend to head down to set and snap pics on the quieter shooting days and always get the okay from the actors before proceeding, getting them to sign off any pics before posting.
Angelus also writes: “My guess is Bobby doesn’t like to be photographed considering I can’t remember a single time he appeared in your blog?”
Answer: Oh, he’ll eventually make an appearance.
Angelus also writes: “How about guest stars?, Robert Knepper perhaps?”
Answer: No, I missed out on Robert but I’m sure he wouldn’t have minded. Very nice guy. As for guest stars – the same rule applies. I always tell them what it’s for, get their permission, and have them sign off on any potential public pics.
Angelus also writes: “And, Did anyone ever freak out about you posting a picture of them in your blog?”
Answer: No one ever freaked out, but Jason Momoa once suggested I ask him before posting any pics. I thought that was very cool of him and gave him a break – which resulted in him tracking me down to take his photos for the blog, like these ones –
E writes: “What SGA episode are you talking about? Only similar title is “Submersion”.”
Answer: Right. Submersion.
Gabriele writes: “1. Will we see Colonel Samantha Carter again in season two of “Stargate Universe”?
2. Will we see any of the Earth ships in season two of “Stargate Universe” and in the movies?”
Answer: Maybe to both questions.
andrew writes: “Anyone on the cast or crew have an ‘out there’ favorite food?”
Answer: Carl is a big fan of Chili’s. Does that count?
Kymm writes: “What hockey team does Ivon cheer for?”
Answer: The hated-everyone-in-Canda-except-Toronto Maple Leafs.
Luis writes: “Speaking of you and Paul’s Comic Book Series..Hows that going for you guys???”
Answer: Great. Next step: the comic book company is assigning an editor to the project.
Michelle writes: “I offer the following translations for your Atlantis movie diplomacy:
a. MGM is in so much debt, even the SG-1 movie has a .001% chance of getting financed, the SGA movie even less. Why should I waste my time?
b. Flanigan has said negative things about SGU’s ratings and prospects; no way am I fighting to get him a gig.
c. You fans are so naive. The sets are gone. SGA is over. Get a clue!
d. Have you not noticed I’m branching out to fiction and comics? I won’t be around long enough to make an SGA movie.
e. MGM never paid me for the script. I don’t work for free.
Care to comment if any of those are accurate?”d
Answer: MGM certainly did pay for the script and I’m sure it’ll only be a matter of time before it’s business as usual with the lion, at least with regard to features and television. The direct-to-dvd market, however, will probably continue to be a big question mark. As for the sets – it’s much cheaper to put them in storage and put them up when needed rather than leave them standing and pay the cost of the stage rental.