Science Fiction Book Review

Pushing Ice

(2005) Alastair Reynolds, Gollancz, 6.99, pbk, 458pp, ISBN 0-575-07815-4
(For reviews of other Alastair Reynolds works see the bottom of this page.)


Alastair Reynolds PhD, part time astrophysicist for the European Space Agency, burst onto the SF scene in 2000 with his first novel Revelation Space, a hard-SF space opera of intriguing complexity that provided the backdrop to his next four books (three novels and a collection of two novellas), ending with Absolution Gap in 2003. In 2004 he stepped out of the 'Revelation Space' universe and gave us Century Rain, a not-quite time-travel, not-quite alternate-history, hard-SF thriller. Though major awards have eluded him his first novel was nominated for the Arthur C Clarke, each of the first four novels was nominated for the BSFA award (Chasm City actually winning! Fourth time lucky...), and Century Rain was a Locus 'Best of the Year' pick. He's also been one of my favourite writers of the 21st century-so-far (along with Richard Morgan and Charles Stross, there not being many other candidates...).

Pushing Ice starts a lot closer to home, in a mid-21st century where the commercial exploitation of the solar system is well under way. Bella Lind is commanding the nuclear-powered ship Rockhopper which pushes ice (comets) to where they're needed when news arrives from Saturn: one of its ice-moons, Janus, has left orbit and appears to be under power. As its camouflage falls away Lind is ordered to investigate, Rockhopper being the only ship close enough to make a rendezvous. As Janus picks up speed, apparently heading for a distantly glimpsed object in Spica, Rockhopper is caught in its wake and the crew must debate whether to break off pursuit, but Lind is too curious to give up the chase and commits her crew to staying on course... This prompts a mutiny and the power struggle continues as the crew of Rockhopper battle to survive as their supplies run out. But it turns out that Lind has friends in the far future who have seeded space with blocks of nanomachines to help her in her time of trial; help she and her crew will desperately need as they are seemingly incarcerated within the Spican structure and meet alien races similarly entrapped, not all of whom have the best interests of the humans at heart...

Reynolds has crafted another detailed hard-SF future with invention a-plenty, but with all-too-human characters that engage the reader in their emotional turmoil, providing the thrust for the book. The relationship between the idealistic Lind and her mutinous former-friend Svetlana throws sparks off the page and, amid all the wonders liberally sprinkled through the work, it is the resolution of the women's conflict that commands attention. This book will satisfy Reynolds' fans, but also (along with Century Rain) provides an opportunity for any newcomers to jump aboard who might have been intimidated by the chunky 'Revelation Space' books. Recommended.

Tony Chester

Click on the link for the review of the hardback of Pushing Ice.

Other books by Reynolds reviewed on this site include: Century Rain, Chasm City, Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days.

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