Monday, December 27, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Alastair Reynolds' Chasm City

British science fiction master Alastair Reynolds has very quickly become one of my favorite authors and Chasm City is a big part of that. Although it is not formally in the Revelation Space trilogy of Revelation Space, Redemption Ark and Absolution Gap, it is set in the same universe as those other books, like The Prefect and his short story collection Galactic North.

Specifically, Chasm City is located on the planet Yellowstone, which once featured the most advanced human civilization in Reynolds' Revelation Space universe; the planet and its environs are mentioned frequently in Revelation Space and Redemption Ark.

The main character of Chasm City is Tanner Mirabel, or at least we the reader think it is. One of the themes in Reynolds' work that I have noticed is the idea that the narrator doesn't not always know their own identity. In other words, the threat of subversion of one's individual identity is always a possibility. Tanner arrives on Yellowstone from another planet called Sky's Edge in order to kill Argent Reivich, whom he believes killed the woman he loved (who just happened to have been the wife of the crime boss Cahuella who hired Tanner to be his chief of security). This storyline appears to be a pretty straightforward revenge tale.

The second, more intriguing story is about Sky Haussman, the original colonist of Tanner's home planet Sky's Edge, who in the intervening centuries since the planet's colonization has become revered as a near God-like figure by some but a Machiavellian mass-murderer by others. Tanner has been infected with a bizarre virus which causes the infected to bleed stigmatically from the palm and to dream obsessively about the life story of Sky Haussman and the sad, bizarre tale of how Sky's Edge was colonized.

There are multiple other subplots, which are also well-written and fascinating. One of the most memorable involves a bizarre extra-terrestrial  creature which is part plant and part reptile called a hamadryad which Cahuella is obsessed with capturing and confining in his private zoo/garden. Another subplot involves a subculture in Chasm City which revolves around a particular drug called "dream fuel." This dangerous substance allows users to avoid the devastating effects of the Melding Plague (a nanotech virus which destroys all machines at a cellular level, including nanomachines that most advanced humans possess during this era and which shows up in the other Revelation Space novels).

Chasm City is the most ambitious and intricately plotted of Reynolds novels, and, in my opinion, the most successful. The threads come together in a surprising way. I thought I had figured out the secret twist about two-thirds through the novel but there was a twist on the twist which completely floored me.

Any lover of well-conceived speculative fiction who has an appreciation for other genres (especially hard-boiled detective fiction) will not be disappointed by taking the time to read Chasm City.

Author: Alastair Reynolds.
Title: Chasm City.
Length: 704 pages.
May 27, 2003.


OVERALL GRADE: A+/A (4.15/4.0).

1 comment:

Kyle Leach said...

Ron thanks for the full body review. Sounds like it is up my alley. I'll add it to the reading list.


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