Fiction Reviews

Galactic North

(2006) Alastair Reynolds, Gollancz, 7.99, pbk, 392 pp, ISBN 978-0-575-0-7984-7


This is a collection of shorts from Reynolds' 'Revelation Space' series that first came out in hardback in 2006 (reviewed by Tony here) but which only saw its arrival as a mass market paperback at the end of 2007, so now (early 2008) is the time to rush out and get a copy if like me you are one of those collectors who shun fiction hardbacks (marvellous physical productions that they are) on the grounds that they take up too much shelf space.

The 'Revelation Space' sequence of novels are particularly good, hard SF, space opera that, of course, includes the novel RevelationSpace itself (which is reviewed elsewhere on this site here and also here). The stories in Galactic North are told in time-line order and this helps in gaining familiarity with Reynolds' universe even if you have not read any of the novels, and if you have not then hopefully this collection might encourage you to do so. Here then are the story teasers.

Great Wall of Mars concerns the end of the war between two factions of humanity: the Demarchists and the Conjoiners. The Demarchists have clearly won but a few nests of Conjoiners still exist including one on Mars. The reason the Conjoiners are so feared by the rest of humanity is that not only have they used technology to enhance the human condition, they have also used it to create a common mentality to which each Conjoiner contributes and can (of course) access. This is Star Trek-type Borg-ism but without the overt mechanical body modification (nano-tech and implants have their cosmetic advantages) and without the hive-mind controlling absolutely all aspects of the individual. Nonetheless it is the fear of Conjoiners having surrendered their individuality. The Conjoiners on Mars are within a huge walled circle: the wall itself extending miles into the sky and encircling a pocket of near Earth quality air. These Mars-based Conjoiners have called for negotiations but what do they really want?

Glacial sees the escaped Conjoiners arrive at a world in another star system that was in the midst of one of the planet's periodical glacials (cold part of an ice age). However they were not the first humans to arrive. US-Americans had got their first as frozen gametes with artificial intelligence brining them back to life. Alas the Conjoiners found that the US base was lifeless and what happened was a bit of a mystery. One American was though in suspended animation and could be revived...

A Spy in Europa. Non-Conjoiner humanity back in the Solar system is fragmented. An agent from one faction goes undercover to Europa to pick up a sample that is apparently of great importance. To whom, let alone what it is, is not as it might first appear...

Weather. The problem with highly specialised technological societies is that you need not only highly specialised humans but specialised forms of humanity. Interstellar travel is only possible through light-hugging starcraft travelling near the velocity of light. This is achieved through Conjoiner technology. The crews of the ships themselves are heavily augmented humans, some of whom are not worried about cosmetics and display parts of their augmentation openly (as do the Borg). Yet even these Ultras (ultra technological) humans are not privy to all the Conjoiner technological know-how that gets their craft up to light speed. So it all gets a bit hairy when between stars there is a pirate encounter and damage to the engine is done.

Dilation Sleep. Between the stars is about as far away from humanity as it is possible to get in human space. It is also not the place you want to have a medical emergency especially if most of those onboard are in suspended animation. This is not the best time or place to start imagining things.

Grafenwalder's Bestiary. Highly advance, extremely high-tech societies have some of their wealthy enjoying extreme wealth. All fair enough and naturally some of the extremely wealthy have hobbies that cost a few bob or two, such as having their own personal exobiological zoo, about which they can get very passionate indeed. The problem is that this mix might be viewed as a weakness that some might exploit...

Nightingale. A team of mercenaries board a long-since derelict hospital ship after a war criminal they believe may be located there in suspended animation. But is the criminal really asleep or even alone...? This is a gripping science horror yarn. (Well it gripped me but then I'm a behind-the-sofa when the Daleks are on kinda guy.)

Galactic North Travelling close to the speed of light gives the travellers extended life (due to time dilation) with respect to those not travelling. And so in a case of interstellar vengeance and rescue it can end up being a deep time escapade... This is space opera on a grand timescale.

Alastair Reynolds rounds of the above collection with a few pages of comment about his writing and SF stories and authors that have inspired him. It is a solid way to end a fine collection that is itself an excellent accompaniment to his 'Revelation Space' novels. Very much recommended.

Jonathan Cowie

See Tony's take on Galactic North here.

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