Fiction Reviews

Evening's Empires

(2013) Paul McAuley, Gollancz, £14.99, trdpbk, 374pp, ISBN 978-0-575-10079-4


Thousands of years in the future humanity has spread throughout the Solar system and a few attempts have been made to reach nearby stars around which colonies now flourish.  Then one day everyone in the Solar system has at the same time a vision of a person on a bicycle looking back before turning and riding off. This was the 'bright Moment'. The mysterious message had been transmitted by some unknown medium and affected absolutely everyone.  Years later little more was known about the Bright Moment but speculation abounds. The preferred theory was that it was from a system that had been colonised and a historic person from Earth's past and who had transmitted it when merging with an alien intelligence in the depths of that system's gas giant.

Years pass…

Gajananvihari (Hari) is a young man aboard his family's salvage ship cruising the Solar system exploring the many long-abandoned habitats that pepper the Sol system. At their father's bidding, they decide to spend some time helping an academic conduct experiments that hopefully would shed light on the Bright Moment. However, Hari's ship is attacked.  Hari manages to escape having been given the head of the academic that contains files related to his research: it was these files that the attackers were after. But an accident means that Hari ends up stranded on an asteroid.  The good news is that there is an old habitat there and one thing Hari knows is how to make the most out of such old equipment. He swears that he will make it back to civilisation and find those that attacked his ship and, if they are still alive, free his family…

Now, while Evening's Empires is part of the 'Quiet War' sequence (see The Quiet War, Gardens of the Sun and In the Mouth of the Whale) but really it is quite easy to read it without having read the earlier works.  (Only the first two titles need to be read together in order as they really are a diptych duology (effectively a single story in two halves), but the others are sufficiently distanced in both and space that they can be read as stand-alones though references to the others are there.)

What we have with Evening's Empires is an SF space opera thriller mainly played out across much of the asteroid belt and Saturn's moon system with added post-human and cyberspace dimensions to boot. This is very much a novel for SF readers. I say this not so much for its use of many SFnal tropes – that is obvious – but for seasoned readers there are a number of SFnal references. For example, the book is divided up into sections each with a title that relates to an old SF work from the second half of the 20th century. For example: 'Childhood's End'; 'Marooned of Vesta'; and 'Downward to Earth'. Other references include an asteroid settlement called 'Trantor'.  This is doubly great for the reader as one would in reality expect our space-going descendents to include SF references for some of their place names: after all, we already name some places on Earth after SF authors (a recent example being Bradbury) and, heck, even some places away from planet Earth (a recent example being Bradbury).  And then again there are dotted about the solar system black monoliths with the dimensions 1:4:9 that when touched emit a signal (alas we never got to the very bottom of these though they do seem to tie in with the over-all 'Quiet War' overarching story arc). One scene even has quasi primordial (genetically resurrected) ape men cavorting on front of one of these monoliths.  What larks.

To sum up. Evening's Empires is a great addition to the 'Quiet War' sequence to date and a rollicking adventure that would very much appeal to readers of Alistair Reynolds and Iain Banks.  Apparently Paul McAuley's next books will not be set in the 'Quiet War' universe. This is perfectly understandable: he has always been a varied author and to date has not been known for cultivating a sequence of novels; indeed the 'Quiet War' sequence is possibly the longest he has done to date. Having said that, it seems he has not ruled out returning to this universe in the future. Hopefully he will as there is certainly more mileage in the backstory.  I have to say I am an absolute sucker for Paul McAuley's space opera and I do recommend you check out his earlier stuff such as Eternal Light and Red Dust.  In fact, if I may be so bold, some of his non-space opera SF (such as Cowboy Angels) is also rather good. (Take that as British understatement.) If you have not come across him before then you have treats in store.

Jonathan Cowie

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