Saturday, 1 January 2011

No Revelations

It's 2011 now, but I've a stack of books to write-up from 2010. This is going to be a little cursory, but here goes anyway. First up is a short story collection from blog-favourite, Alastair Reynolds. Not from his Revelation Space series this time, but a series of stories from across his career, 1991 through to 2008, Zima Blue.

Unlike earlier collections, this one is largely made up of discrete stories that aren't united in a common universe, though there are a few that share the same future and a few characters. Considering that Reynolds is probably most famous for his interstellar Space Operas, most of the stories are rather surprisingly low-key, with some even taking place within a recognisable (and very British) near-future.

They range across hopeful post-apocalyptic yarns (Enola); Martian sloths (The Real Story); galactic journeys gone wrong (Beyond the Aquila Rift); explorations of many worlds in Wales (Signal to Noise); an investigation of space-time accompanied by an Elton John AI (Understanding Space and Time); and quantum immortality (Everlasting).

My favourite was the eponymous story, Zima Blue (obviously), which concerns a planetary-scale artist, Zima; the shade of blue that his work utilises; and how he gradually remembers the origin for this aesthetic preference. Which probably makes it sound ridiculous or seriously boring, but I felt that it had some real existential heart. It also pleasingly reminded me of the French artist, Yves Klein, whose rather vivid work we first came across in Barcelona (or was it Nice?), and who invented a particular shade of blue that features prominently in his work. I imagine that Reynolds must also be a fan.

Anyway, while there were one or two stories I was left scratching my head at the end of ("is that it?"), most were really quite good. As well as Zima Blue, I particularly liked Aquila Rift's premise of a routine space voyage gone vastly and terrifyingly wrong, and its introduction of an alien Samaritan picking up the pieces. Reynolds' "many worlds in Wales" tales were really nicely thought through too (a strange fusion between the corresponding works of Greg Egan and Iain Banks), though the Welsh setting made them seem rather mundane to me. It's probably true for other people too, but I tend to be aesthetically prejudiced against UK-set science fiction. It needs to be set somewhere "exciting" and "exotic", like Los Angeles ...

Overall, more solid fare from Reynolds. I'm already looking forwards to getting back to him before too long courtesy of a recent present from C: Terminal World.

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