Jun 5 2012 5:00pm

Galactic Family Mystery: Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds

Alastair Reynolds is one of the Big Names in Science Fiction; he writes large scale far future novels many would place at the forefront of Space Opera. With Blue Remembered Earth, Reynolds launches a new milieu titled Poseidon’s Children – I say milieu rather than trilogy since, at this point, the novels in the series are planned as connected stand-alones rather than a contiguous story over three novels. Regardless, he paints his story on a grand canvas balanced with intimate human moments.

Reynolds is no stranger to mixing different elements into his far future stories; some have suggested the novels in his Revelation Space sequence are flavored with noir, horror, and mystery. Though Blue Remembered Earth is very much a familial conflict/mystery and it is set in a future with inventive technological pontifications, it is a more hopeful novel than much of what he’s written. In this far future, the galaxy is colonized, global warming has enforced more government control although humanity has for lack of a better term, rebounded and still flourishes throughout the Solar System. If anything, the hinted melting glaciers (Icelandic Merlot) and global warming could easily lend itself to a more apocalyptic setting, but it seems here that Reynolds is suggesting these challenges have strengthened humanity and fostered our resolve for growth and civilized expansion.

Set approximately 150 years into the future, Blue Remembered Earth focuses on the Akinya dynasty, from whom the flourishing of the dominant African global power can be attributed. At the outset of the novel, the eldest and matriarch of the family, Eunice has recently passed away leaving her grandson Geoffrey and granddaughter Sunday to carry on the family name along with their cousins Hector and Lucas (referred to as the Cousins by both Geoffrey and Sunday with great disdain), who function as antagonists though they are from evil. From Eunice’s death, a mystery envelops her offspring that takes the majority of the novel to unfold and be solved.

The first person to be sucked into the mystery is Geoffrey, who has all but cut himself off from the family to spend time tending his herd of elephants. Like many research scientists the major problem with Geoffrey’s job is securing additional funding for researching elephant intelligence. When his cousins Hector and Lucas come calling with promises to fund his research, Geoffrey reluctantly accepts and is off to the Moon to look into a safe deposit box Eunice left behind. The cousins warn Geoffrey that while he can visit his sister Sunday on the moon, he isn’t permitted to discuss what he finds in the safe deposit box. Of course this does not last long and the mystery contents – a glove from a space suit filled with colored stones – sets the plot fully into motion.

Though set ‘only’ in the local Solar System, Reynolds paints a picture of great civilized growth and cultural expansion. The quest to discover Eunice’s secret takes our characters to not only the moon, but Mars and Phobos and hints at life on other planets in the Solar System. Due to the global catastrophes, Earth is part of the Surveilled World where more scrutiny is shown to daily life; think a softer version of Big Brother. Outside the Surveilled World is the Descrutinised Zone, specifically the portion of the Moon where Sunday lives, where more freedom is the norm.

Some of Reynolds’s technological imaginings are, of course, taken for granted (such as travel between planets of the solar system, bioengineered life, and artificial intelligence), but no less fascinating. Perhaps the thing that has the most prominent and active role in this book is the virtual construct Eunice.  Because Eunice Akinya’s conscience had been documented, Sunday creates construct for her Grandmother from publicly available documents. The construct follows both Sunday and Geoffrey throughout the novel, much to Geoffrey’s early chagrin. This was especially harrowing to Geoffrey during the times he tended to his herd of elephants when the sudden appearance of the Eunice construct startles his herd.

Reynolds has painted an incredibly rich canvas with this novel and although he closes out the story begun in the opening pages, there’s a literal mine of imaginative ideas to be explored in future volumes of Poseidon’s Children. My main issue with the narrative as a whole was how dense it was, from a detail and flow-of-the-plot perspective. The characters were extremely well developed, but I felt some of the events were stalled by chunks of narrative that if trimmed, would have made for a much more consistently paced novel.

At its heart, Blue Remembered Earth is often an engaging science fiction novel, almost always thought-provoking, but for my reading sensibilities, I found it to be too layered in narrative detail to make the jump from Good Science Fiction to Outstanding Science Fiction.

Rob H. Bedford is a lifelong a fan and reader of Speculative Fiction. He has a blog and, for about a decade, he has been contributing reviews and interviews and moderating the discusson forums at SFFWorld. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and dog.

1. Dax
It's not the "galaxy" that is colonized in BRE, but our solar system.
Robert H. Bedford
2. RobB
I realized that, but like the sound of "Galactic Family Mystery" better than "Solar Family Mystery."
3. Petar Belic
This is the first Alaistair Reynolds novel that I felt flat about, after reading.

The main problem with the story is the 'Solar System Treasure Hunt' -
a rather ridiculous contrivance on the part of Eunice to keep her inheritors hopping all over the solar system. It feels like a plot device to allow Alastair to write a lovely travelogue of the Solar System.

The staples of latter Alastair Reynolds novels are here, including family relationships which seem to have become more a focus of his novels in the latter years. To their detriment.

The sparkling inventiveness and style in Chasm City is no longer on display here. Or if it is, it's in fits and starts.

The main protagonist was very hard for me to care about. His ambivalent attitude, lack of charisma and general gormlessness made me take a break from the book and read another one. Something I would never have done previously for AR books.

The construct herself felt like just another human character, rather than a construct. Of course, Alastair has done constructs before, and they featured prominently in previous novels. They were somewhat broken entities for the most part, beset by limitations or other problems, and this helped create a great story. Here, Eunice's construct just feels like a greek chorus, or the voice of conscience whispering in the protagonists' ear, or just another human. Not really exciting, unfortunately.

There is, however, as the reviewer has identified, plenty of fun in the setting to be had. It's not all bad, by a long shot! Bad Reynolds is still a LOT better than the large percentage of science fiction, so take this under advisement.

I will pick up the next book, but with reservations. Alastair Reynolds has been talking up this new series for a long time, so hopefully he has something special on offer. The ending of the book gives me hope that this is true!
4. Tartancrusader
Just one question: are there sentient animals in this? I hate sentient animal stories.
Robert H. Bedford
5. RobB
@ Petar Belic - I didn't have too tough a time empathizing with Geoffrey. I haven't read all of Alastair's oeuvre so I can't compare this to all of his work but I will say I enjoyed it more than Terminal World. I'll also be reading the next book though I might not dive into it quite as anxiously as I did this one.
6. Petar Belic
Rob, I think it's worth picking up the next book, considering the ending.

Tartancrusader, while the animals are depicted in depth in some chapters, their sentience in nothing human-like. Despite my critique, if you like science fiction, I'm sure you'll find plenty to enjoy in this book.

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