Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds

When I read the plot synopses of Reynolds's books, they often sound like something I should like.  I want to like his work, and I keep expecting to like his work, but I find that his books are more appealing in theory than in reality -- I start a lot of them, I rarely finish them.  I wish I knew why that was, because I really want to like them.  To date I have finished Revelation Space (but only got through it by skipping most of the Sylveste parts) and Redemption Ark.  I have tried and abandoned Chasm City, Century Rain, Pushing Ice, and The Prefect.  I keep trying his work, because it sounds promising and I keep thinking that maybe this one will work for me.  And so we come to Blue Remembered Earth.

I finished this one.

It is set a couple of centuries in the future, and humanity has spread out within our solar system.  The Akinya family firm was very important in making that happen, and they are very wealthy and powerful.  We begin the story in Africa, as Geoffrey Akinya is informed that the family matriarch, his grandmother Eunice, has died.  Geoffrey and his sister Sunday are the rebels of the family, who were uninterested in going into the family business.  Geoffrey relies on money from his family to fund his research into elephant cognition, and Sunday has moved to the moon to be a struggling artist.  They face a certain amount of pressure from the rest of the family to fall in line and join the family business, or at least do something more productive with their lives.  They resist, and the dynamic is very reminiscent of teenagers resenting their elders, even though Geoffrey and Sunday are theoretically well past that age.

Geoffrey's cousins twist his arm into doing an errand for them: going to the moon and investigating the contents of a safe deposit box that Eunice had there.  What he finds is odd, and he and Sunday decide to follow the trail of clues that Eunice left, all the while resenting the hell out of the rest of their family.  What follows is a bit contrived, as they follow and decipher clues that Eunice seems to have left across the solar system, and they get involved with a political movement that may or may not be all that helpful to them rather than use family resources to do it.  It becomes clear as they near the end that finally discovering Eunice's secret will be a big, big deal.

The mystery plot kept me reading, because I'm a sucker for a mystery and want find out what the secret is at the end.  But.  BUT.  I came very near to abandoning this book around page 300, and eventually decided to continue only because I'd already invested so much time in it that I didn't want the effort to be wasted.  If I hadn't been so far in when I got too disgusted with Geoffrey, I would have put the book down without hesitation.  Because there is a big, big problem with the novel, and it is the characters.  They are completely unlikeable and uninteresting.  I don't have to like the main characters in a novel, but they have to have some characteristics that make me willing to follow them around for the length of the story.  There wasn't a single character in this book that I found interesting enough to care if they lived or died.

I also found the big revelation at the end a bit of a letdown, and I found Eunice's actions (mild spoiler: she found access to amazing science, but couldn't decide whether or not to share it with humanity, so she foisted the decision off on a younger generation) to be rather a cop-out, and no guarantee that the end result would be favorable.

As I was reading this, I couldn't help but compare it with Great North Road by Peter Hamilton, which also is set in the not-too-distant future and also features a very rich and powerful family, and also involves a mystery to keep the reader going.  I think this is the more successful book, in that I finished it, whereas I gave up on Great North Road about 400 pages in because it was too damned slow and not interesting enough for me to want to read another 550 pages to find out the answers.  I don't know if anyone else would see the similarities between the novels, but to me there was some sort of resonance.

I understand that Blue Remembered Earth is the first of a planned trilogy.  I will not be reading the rest of them.  But I have to say, I do feel a certain sense of accomplishment for finally making it to the end of another Reynolds novel.  I just wish I had liked it better.

2 comments:

Paul said...

I also read Blue Remembered Earth and had much the same response as you. The two grandchildren are skeletal characters who's main reason to exist is to bumble about until they figure out the clues.

I also stayed for the puzzle but am slightly more inclined to be charitable to the grandmother as it is not hard to share her ambivalence towards humanity. But I agree that her solution sucked.

Revelation Space was okay but incredibly slow. Chasm City wasn't worth the paper it was printed on. Chris is about to try the Great North Road (from the library) and I hope she likes it more than you did.

Why do modern SF writers feel the need to be ponderous?

Gail O'Connor said...

Great North Road starts out very interesting, and the characters are better. It's just that you read the length of a normal novel, realize that not much is happening, and you need to read another novel or more in length to get to the answers, and I, at least, get very angry at the author for wasting my time with the glacial pacing. The last Hamilton novel I read I finally bailed at page 550. For me, a long book cannot merely be good, it has to be amazing to hold my attention for that long. Usually inside a long novel is a short novel with a hell of a lot of padding.