Sunday 28th September: I nearly didn’t have anything to write about this weekend. Having had a cold and two very late nights (due to work) during the week, I chose not to join the group for Friday night’s visit to the Duchess. I did see Leeds beat Hereford yesterday but, to be honest, I don’t think I’m the best football writer in the world. (Cue cries of, “Yes, but you’re not the best music/book writer, either!!”)
Despite it being two weeks since I last posted book reviews, I was nowhere near finishing the next Alastair Reynolds. I’m enjoying his books but they are quite hard-going. The one I’m currently reading had a short paragraph describing the relative velocities of two objects approaching each other at light speed which I had to re-read a number of times and I’m still not sure I understand it. I wonder if that’s why they call it “hard science fiction”… because it’s hard to understand?
Anyway, for a few tens of minutes on Friday evening I found myself with some spare time but bereft of said book. There was nothing else for it but to start another one. I chose another Reynolds, but one about a third of the size of his others and with much less dense print.
Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days (2003) brings together two of Reynolds previously published novellas. Both are set in the universe of the Revelation Space novels and contain aspects of that universe to tell stories unrelated to the novels.
Have you ever worried over a puzzle, gradually getting closer and closer to the answer, but finally realising that it is to hard for you? Only for it to nag away at the back of your mind until you start looking at it again? If you have, you will feel some sympathy with the characters in Diamond Dogs. They form a team, put together by a Chasm City resident previously thought dead, in order to breach a mysterious spire on a barren world. The spire contains a number of rooms which the team have to enter in sequence, solving mathematical puzzles in order to open each door. As they get further into the spire the puzzles get harder, the doors smaller and the time they are allowed to answer the puzzles shorter. A wrong answer, or no answer in the specified time, results in horrific injuries. Eventually a secret is revealed, but it is not the spire’s.
On Turquoise, an isolated water-planet inhabited by the mysterious Pattern Jugglers, a communication blackout put in place as a spaceship is detected approaching causes two young researchers to swim with a Juggler, before they have the proper training. One dies and two years later, as the spaceship arrives, her sister tries to get closure by getting to see the Ultras that she believes caused, if indirectly, the death. Thus starts a series of events that changes the world of Turquoise forever.
The Revelation Space universe, while full of standard SF wonders is a dark place. These two stories show somewhat different sides of it. Diamond Dogs is interesting not for the central theme of the spire and its puzzles – any story which can reference the films Cube and Raiders of the Lost Ark as well as Algis Budry’s novel Rogue Moon (1960) is well aware of its roots – but for the somewhat horrific ways that it treats its characters. The injuries sustained by them in the course of their explorations are treated in such ways to let them continue. It is the lengths that the characters are willing to go to to try to find the Spire’s secret that makes this story one of the most disturbing that I have read in the genre.
Turquoise Days, on the other hand, is a fairly straight forward adventure story with just the slightest of twists. In other hands, perhaps those of an author handling emotion better, it could have been a tear-jerker. But, while Reynolds writes fully developed characters he doesn’t really seem to do emotion. That doesn’t, however, make this a bad story. It is exciting in places and sheds a bit more light on the Pattern Jugglers and the worlds that they live on, while using the differences between Human factions as its basis. I also have a bit of a soft spot for stories set on oceanic worlds.
Two more stories that show that Reynolds is, in terms of current British science fiction, up there with Stephen Baxter and Peter F Hamilton.