As a member of Audible I get two audiobooks a month. My book selection for audiobooks has a slightly different criteria. Mainly to get the most bang for the buck I try to find long audiobooks. Fantasy novels often fit this criteria. So searching through their best sellers list for Science Fiction I ran across a novel titled “Pushing Ice” by Alastair Reynolds. It sounded interesting enough and was close to 20 hours. It also turned out to be quite a good read with a lot of interesting ideas and science.
So when the time came to spend another of my precious (said with Gollum inflection) credits I turned to another of his novels “Century Rain”. I enjoyed this novel even more. Once you start reading most authors you start to come across commonalities and favorite themes of that author. I detected some here even though these are quite different novels plot wise.
Here is the publisher’s summary:
Three hundred years from now, Earth has been rendered uninhabitable due to the technological catastrophe known as the Nanocaust.
Archaeologist Verity Auger specializes in the exploration of its surviving landscape. Now, her expertise is required for a far greater purpose.
Something astonishing has been discovered at the far end of a wormhole: mid-twentieth century Earth, preserved like a fly in amber. Somewhere on this alternate planet is a device capable of destroying both worlds at either end of the wormhole. And Verity must find the device, and the man who plans to activate it, before it is too late—for the past and the future of two worlds…
Although in the audiobook the women’s name is I believe Olga Auger, it certainly wasn’t Verity.
We have hear some common Science Fiction themes such as nanobots running amok and something that might be time travel/parallel universe/computer simulation/or something much different. One connection these two novels had is that you have a situation that turns out to be quite different than what the characters assumed had been taking place. In fact the situation is much wilder than even their wild speculations had assumed. Now add in Wendell Floyd a part-time Jazz musician and small-time private detective in 1959 paris and you start to add in a noir dimension. Wendell is hired to investigate the possible murder of a women in a hotel. There is a convergent storyline including both Floyd and Auger that take the murder mystery into a saving of the world or worlds situation.
What I have come to appreciate with Alastair Reynolds is more than just big-idea Science Fiction. While the hypothetical science and possible projections are quite excellent and stunning the characters are not just wireframes moving through the plot. I certainly enjoyed the complexity of the characters in both novels I have read. The various characters added to the tensions and suspense and the novel succeeded as both a noir detective novel and “save the world” science fiction.
My only real complaint which is a common one for lots of Science Fiction is the loss of any religious dimension. In these novels in the future apparently humans have moved beyond religion except of course not moving beyond using Jesus as some form of swear word. In “Pushing Ice” religion only becomes involved when a small group of scientists create a religion as a way to deal with questions they could not understand. Where religion is the irrational result of people creating the supernatural response when failing to understand the underpinning science. A totally materialist view of the human person is also seen in “Century Rain”. Even when Auger says a silent prayer it is totally without any context to her character in the novel and is more like a cliche for what somebody in a hopeless situation does. It is not that I am calling for explicit religious themes and characters in SF, just not using whiteout on the religious instinct where the future is an atheist’s utopian dream of “imagining no religion.” Despite this I have used another of my precious Audible credits for one more of his books.