This is the third and apparently final part of the trilogy written by the leading British million pound-advance sci fi author and fan of the mighty Fall Alastair Reynolds, which featured the earlier instalments Blue Remembered Earth and On the Steel Breeze. Representatives of humanity – people, advanced elephants (known as Tantors) and artificial intelligences – form a new kind of post-religious trinity and have travelled through the stars using adopted and adapted alien technology. Great mysteries of the universe are on the verge of being unveiled and centuries’ long feuds may at last be settled. This must all be to the good.
In the earlier books, humanity – whose primary languages are now Swahili and Chinese – began to take its baby steps away from earth and away from its own nature. People became able for the first time to diverge from the limitations of their physicality and explore new forms of life as, for example, merpeople or massive denizens of the deep. The ability of people both to become a massive denizen of the deep and to travel in alien spaceships is, of course, limited for practical reasons but the prudent traveller is able to combine the two activities with some care. Although this is not a post-scarcity society, most of the protagonists seem to have enough money to do more or less what they want. Some characters are members of a well-established corporate dynasty, which explains their freedom, while others are able to become commanders of their fate through skill in arts, diplomacy, ability to attract research grants and so forth. Meanwhile, technology has started to develop to the extent that it has become less rather than more obtrusive and, so, does not really need to be discussed or described or justified. Be that as it may, the scene is set for interactions between the characters and the changing nature of their relationships that takes centre stage. It is a confident author of science fiction who disregards all the toys and paraphernalia of the genre to rely instead on characterization and dialogue. Reynolds is good enough to be able to achieve this. Characters are nicely paired and contrasted with others, while the development in the action as it switches locations may be considered to embody dialectical relationships.
The action progresses in a way that is both optimistic and humanistic. People make mistakes, certainly but one of the virtues of having a greatly extended life expectancy is that more opportunities for redemption will come around eventually. Nevertheless, people must still be ready to take those opportunities. Even so, it is pleasing that the plots move toward progress for the individuals involved and for humanity as a whole – some significant problems are, after all, circumvented.
It would probably be possible to pick up this final part of the trilogy and make sufficient sense of the action but probably only just. A better idea would be to start with the first part and then let the action continue from there. I myself will be looking forward to his next book.