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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Review: On the Steel Breeze

On the Steel Breeze is Alastair Reynolds' follow-up to Blue Remembered Earth. I call it a follow-up rather than a sequel, because it doesn't depend very much on reading Blue Remembered Earth, and Blue Remembered Earth's characters (with one exception) do not play much of a part in this novel.

I'm of two minds about this novel. First of all, the point-of-view character, Chiku Akinya, is a thoroughly unlikeable person. She's secretive, makes poor decisions, and trusts, no one, not even her family. She's faced with a dilemma, with knowledge that the generation ship she's on is headed to a destination already occupied by a human-created AI with no intention of letting humans settle in. Furthermore, prior automated machines and sensors sent there in advance to prepare the planet for settlement has been lying to humanity for ages. Rather than trust humanity to do something useful with that knowledge, she keeps it to herself and does her best to let no one else know about it, even though if at any point she had died, humanity would have been screwed. It's clear that Reynolds doesn't know how to build plausible characters, and this main character basically reflects the worst of science fiction's traits: the inability to fit decent characters into a plot-driven narrative.

On the other hand, the world building is great. Reynolds does a good job exploring how you could build a caravan of colony ships, complete with ecosystems and planned hibernation setups. The world of Crucible and its solar system is interesting as well, as is the state of the civilized space in the Sol system.

Unfortunately, there are plot-points one after another in the novel that just destroy the believability of the novel. For instance, we are led to believe that humanity would build a caravan of colony ships with deliberately under-supplied engines, trusting that new technologies would be invented during transit that would enable the ships to brake and orbit the target system. That sounds insane to anyone, and is unbelievable.

The net net is that On the Steel Breeze is a much poorer novel than Blue Remembered Earth, and even worse, it doesn't supply a payoff to the major mysteries introduced in the setup, expecting you to read the sequel with the novel ending on a cliff-hanger.

It pains me to say this since I'm a huge Reynolds fan: but stay away from this book at all costs unless the sequel has come out and you're prepared to spend the time reading both books at once. Not recommended.

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