|Blue Remembered Earth is the first volume in a
new series from Alastair Reynolds charting humanity's journey to the stars. The saga opens
in 22nd century Kenya, where the Akinya family, the extremely wealthy owners of the Akinya
Space company, are scattering the ashes of their pioneering matriarch Eunice. Eunice was
among the earliest human settlers on Mars and the first person to travel to (and mine
resources from) the trans-Neptunian asteroids, but spent the last three decades of her
life living in isolation in a small habitat in Lunar orbit. When they learn that she left
something in a safe deposit box on the Moon, her heirs worry that some terrible revelation
is at hand and send her grandson Geoffrey to retrieve the box's contents. Geoffrey only
wants to pursue his research into elephant cognition; his sister Sunday is living as an
artist on the far side of the Moon; both have turned their backs on the family fortune and
responsibilities. But the safe deposit box leads them into a treasure hunt across the
Solar System to discover Eunice's legacy to all humanity.
I enjoyed this book, it's got
a lot of variety and a lot of drama to it. The characters weren't always believable and I
found it hard to care about them at times, but the ideas were engaging. For example, crime
has in theory been eradicated in the 22nd century because the personal hardware that
everybody carries inside their heads allows the Mechanism to detect violent impulses and
administer a painful deterrent shock. However, the Mechanism is only as effective as the
degree of surveillance coverage available to it, so Geoffrey is still in danger of being
killed when he's out in the wilderness with his elephants; and those who disagree with the
whole idea of the Mechanism have moved to the far side of the Moon and created the
Descrutinised Zone, where it's your right (and a point of honour) to be mugged the minute
you step off the shuttle. The ethical and political issues around this are only lightly
explored I would have been happy to read a book that went further with this idea.
Come to that, I would have been happy to read more about the elephant cognition research,
which was really just a side item here.
But these and other intriguing concepts have to make room for the interplanetary
runabout of the main plot. I can't shake the feeling that this was really just a lot of
sound and fury to get the pieces into place for the next in the series, but it was highly
entertaining nonetheless. My only real gripe about it is that the action plot and the big
ideas kicking around the novel didn't particularly mesh; on the other hand, one might
argue that the ideas form a densely built world for the plot to happen in, rather than
merely serving it, and presumably later books will see the pay-off to some of these ideas.
In any case, there's enough of a combination of intrigue and moments of spectacle to
maintain the reader's interest, it's just not very evenly textured.
Blue Remembered Earth is pretty good, but I suspect (well, I hope) that
greater things will follow in the books that it sets up.