On The Steel Breeze is the second book in Alastair Reynolds latest space opera saga called Poseidon's Children. The first book was titled Blue Remembered Earth. Sadly, these books are being released in America more than 6 months after their British/European release dates. The first book was released there in January 2012 but not in the USA until June 4, 2012. The second book was released September 26, 2013 but did not appear in the USA until June 3, 2014. Distressingly, the third and final book in the trilogy was released on April 30, 2015 but people in the USA will not have access to it until February 2, 2016. I suppose we Americans should be thankful that we don't have to wait until June 2016 to finally get our grubby little hands on the conclusion of the latest Alastair Reynolds trilogy!
On The Steel Breeze is set more than 200 years after the events of Blue Remembered Earth. The main characters are three clones of Chiku Akinya, granddaughter of Eunice Akinya, the macguffin from the first book, and in this story, the primary force behind humanity spreading out into interstellar space. In On The Steel Breeze we have Chiku Red, Chiku Yellow and Chiku Green, who split off and go have separate adventures, This is a very clever device to allow the author to use his prodigious imagination to dazzle us with compelling far-future scenarios. Chiku Yellow remains on Earth, which is in control by an all-seeing, all-powerful AI called the Mechanism (or the Mech) which monitors all human activity and prevents (or punishes) any forms of physical violence. Chiku Green is part of a fleet of generational colony ships (mined out asteroids under constant acceleration called with living space for several thousand people) aimed at the planet Crucible where signs of an intelligent structure called the Mandala have been detected. Chiku Red jumped on a ship in an attempt to follow and catch up with Eunice Akinya and has not been heard of since.
So, the story mainly follows Chiku Yellow and Chiku Green. Chiku Green's was the more compelling arc to me because there is plenty of action and intrigue as the long space journey to Crucible drags on and even though Chiku has the option of going into suspended animation, the situation on the colony ships change drastically as secrets are revealed about not just the ships themselves (hint: there are stowaways!) but also their destination (the data which the Mech showed humanity about Crucible turns out to have been selectively edited). This leads to a lot of political intrigue and exciting action.
That's not to say that Chiku Yellow's story is boring. She ends up interacting with the genetically modified humans called the merfolk who have formed an autonomous nation in Earth's seas (successfully minimizing surveillance by the Mechanism) and she goes on a somewhat meandering quest for information that will hopefully help Chiku Green that takes her to Venus, Phobos, the asteroid belt, the Akinya ancestral home in Africa and finally back to her home in Lisbon. She also has numerous unpleasant (and dangerous) run-ins with the Mech which lead to a cliffhanger showdown at the end of the book.
Reynolds includes a lot of interesting themes in the book: conflict between man and machine, the limit and consequences of human genetic modifications/adaptations, systems of governance among humans who are in an isolated society, the nature of familial and generational compulsions and responsibilities.
Overall, On The Steel Breeze is not Reynolds at his very best, but that still means that it is better (more interesting, more compelling, more complex) than the vast majority of science fiction out there and well worth a read. I am definitely looking forward to read Poseidon's Wake as soon as it is released domestically!
Title: On The Steel Breeze.
Author: Alastair Reynolds.
Paperback: 496 pages.
Date Published: June 3, 2014.
Date Read: June 21, 2014.
OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).