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Blue Remembered Earth
by Alastair Reynolds
Ace Books, $26.95, 502pp
Release Date: June 5, 2012
Mr. Reynolds writes hardcore science fiction. Which is, I confess, something of a relief from the unrelenting fantasy permeating the bookshelves these days. But it’s not so hardcore as to leave you behind in the dust; it’s understandable.

The world of 2160 is very different while remaining the same in so many ways. The climate is repaired, better health and long life for everyone, colonies on the moon and Mars, and there is no more killing…anywhere; but there are still governments in conflict with one another, political factions rise and fall, and humans experiment with technologies with no regard for consequences. Africa is now the premier nation on earth and the Tanzanian Akinya family is quite wealthy and powerful. But the reclusive matriarch of the family has recently passed away and the ramifications will be greater than anyone can imagine.

Geoffrey and Sunday Akinya are siblings who are the black sheep of the family. Both have rejected working within the family business; Geoffrey to spend all his time in the African bush working with elephants and Sunday to the Moon to be an artist. But it is Geoffrey who is compelled by his cousins who run the family business to investigate a slightly mysterious safe deposit box on the Moon that belonged to their grandmother. The cousins are concerned that whatever their eccentric grandmother left, it could have an impact on the family. What Geoffrey finds seems innocuous enough so he shows it to his sister. That action propels both of them into a system-wide search for clues left behind sixty years earlier by their grandmother. Sunday goes to Mars and Geoffrey to the space habitat where their grandmother spent her last sixty years. The prize is unknown, unguessable, and will affect all of mankind.

This was a massive story; but, unlike a lot of hard SF, very, very human. The plot was actually a typical mystery with several issues that had to be resolved. But it was a good plot; convoluted but not slow. The characters were pretty well realized. A lot of hard SF tends to ignore characters in favor of the science but I think Reynolds struck a good balance. The one flaw he has is that he seldom gives a description of any characters. For example – I have no idea what any of the Akinyas look like. He only gave descriptions of walk-on characters and only when they were really, really different such as the aquatic gene-gineered humans. And there was one conflict scene, a battle between the space habitat and a ship, that was quite difficult to follow; I read it three times trying to figure out who was shooting at whom. It could have been scripted better.

There was a point near the end when Reynolds fell back on extrapolation, much like the detective at the end of a mystery when he/she expounds on all the clues shown and where they led. In his defense, the concepts he wanted to give us were so significant, it would have caused the book to double in size if he had ‘shown’ rather than ‘told.’ It was a satisfying story and, as usual with these grand concepts, makes me wistful for a brighter day for humanity. It is the first in a promised trilogy; I can’t imagine where he could go from here. I’ll have to wait for him to show me. ~~ Catherine Book

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