Fiction Reviews

House of Suns

(2008) Alastair Reynolds, Gollancz, 18.99, hrdbk, 512pp, ISBN 978-0-575-0-7717-1


A thousand years from now the solar system enjoys a brief age known as the Golden Hour. Towards the end of that age some individuals of the wealthiest families have themselves cloned in multiple copies, each one of which sets off round the galaxy trading and gathering knowledge. One such individual was Abigail Gentian, of the House of Flowers, whose initial expertise was in cloning technologies. Now, six million years later, the great Houses of the galaxy have proved to be longer lived than most civilisations, and Gentian Line now specialises in creating 'Star Dams', made from nested layers of ringworlds left over by a vanished race of 'Priors'. Campion and Purslane are both Gentian 'shatterlings' and have broken the House rules by falling in love. They are going to be up to eighty years late for the House reunion, held roughly once every 220,000 years, but they hope that the passenger they have picked up, a Machine Person called Hesperus, will dull whatever punishment is to be meted out to them, both for consorting and for being late. But, when the shatterlings arrive at the reunion rendezvous, they discover most of their line has been wiped out through the use of illegal weapons. Who has decided that Gentian line must die and, more importantly, why? What, if anything, does it have to do with Campion's visit to the Vigilance, a Dyson swarm that is the galaxy's greatest library of information? Is it anything to do with the Vigilance's main area of study, investigating why the Andromeda galaxy has gone dark? And what is the Machine People's interest? And, finally, who or what is the unknown House of Suns, a line no one has ever heard of? Can Campion and Purslane solve the myriad mysteries before their line is wiped out completely?

Reynolds has once again created a galaxy-spanning, mind-boggling stage on which to set a gripping, thoughtful, intelligent drama. When the backdrop is as fascinating as the story, that is when you have a really good book on your hands. Some writers would give their mothers for just one of Reynolds' throwaway ideas, let alone be capable of cramming a novel full of so much good stuff that you start to salivate. From his beginning just a few short years ago Reynolds has continually been the most inventive SF writer of the 21st century to date, bar none. And, trust me, there are a lot of good writers out there (many of which I enjoy reading), so I don't say that lightly. And his characters are just as engaging as his ideas, so it is not just a case of having had my good ol' SF 'sensawonder' stimulated, though that is a big part of the attraction. If I were less in awe, I should be more jealous of Reynolds' abilities; thankfully, I am having way too much of a good time reading his work for anything that trivial to matter. I have given Reynolds high recommendations before, and I am more than happy to do so again, especially for the Hard SF crowd out there. If you have really not started reading Reynolds yet, then it is really about time you did, and this book is as good a place as any to start. Let's hope this one wins Reynolds the awards and recognition that he deserves. Hugo, anyone?

Tony Chester

You can also see Jonathan's review of The House of Suns.

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