Slow Bullets

Alastair Reynolds

2016 Locus Award-Winner
2016 Hugo Award Nominee
2019 Canopus Award Winner

From the author of the Revelation Space series. The end of a war between hundreds of worlds is imminent. On the brink of the ceasefire, a conscripted solider is captured and left for dead.  If she survives, the survival of civilization will depend on her.


Slow Bullets

by Alastair Reynolds

ISBN: 9781616961930

Published: June 2015

Available Format(s): Trade Paperback and Digital Books


New from the author of the Revelation Space series, an interstellar adventure of war, identity, betrayal, and the preservation of civilization itself. 

A vast conflict, one that has encompassed hundreds of worlds and solar systems, appears to be finally at an end. A conscripted soldier is beginning to consider her life after the war and the family she has left behind. But for Scur—and for humanity—peace is not to be.

On the brink of the ceasefire, Scur is captured by a renegade war criminal, and left for dead in the ruins of a bunker. She revives aboard a prisoner transport vessel. Something has gone terribly wrong with the ship. 

Passengers—combatants from both sides of the war—are waking up from hibernation far too soon. Their memories, embedded in bullets, are the only links to a world which is no longer recognizable. And Scur will be reacquainted with her old enemy, but with much higher stakes than just her own life.

Praise for Slow Bullets

2016 Locus Award-Winner
A Neil Clarke/Clarkesworld Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Recommended Book
2016 American Library Association Reading List Honor Title
A UK Guardian Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Book of 2015
Locus 2015 Recommended Reading List: Best Novella

“What happens to survivors at the end of an interstellar war? In the latest from Reynolds (“Revelation Space” series), refugees, soldiers, and criminals are loaded aboard the same vessel and plunged into cryo-suspension. When Scur wakes in her capsule, she’s confused, as it seems far too soon and no one is in charge. With the ship’s computer in terminal decline and the only stable source of information the slow bullets injected into their bodies, Scur and the other passengers must decide what’s more important, their personal lives or the larger fate of humanity. VERDICT While shorter than Reynolds’s usual fare, this is no less ambitious in covering vast scopes of space and time while addressing big questions. Suggest to fans of Ian MacDonald or Kim Stanley Robinson, particularly those who liked Aurora.”
Library Journal, starred review

“Reynolds does his usual fine job of creating a compelling narrative out of the classic materials of space opera as viewed through a modern sensibility and an awareness of the real science of space travel. Recommended.”

A Buzzfeed June pick

 ‘Slow Bullets’ builds nicely to an almost profound conclusion and left a big impact despite its small size.”

 “It’s a compelling adventure story about people trying to make something worthwhile, after lives spent only on destruction.”
The Morning Star

 Five Stars. Slow Bullets is incredible, it is a superbly balanced story packed full of ideas and subtlety. It’s also not only the finest of Reynolds work so far but it’s one of the finest nuggets of science fiction you could read anywhere.”
Science Fiction Book Review

“This is not military science fiction, this is war opera. Recommended!”
Bewildering Stories

Slow Bullets is a huge leap forward for Alastair Reynolds”
Strange Horizons

“Dang, Reynolds can write. This has it all: a fantastic premise, a solid protagonist, and incredible tension to carry everyone along.”
50 Book Challenge

“Alastair Reynolds’ new novella Slow Bullets has the scope of a much longer work (Edward Gibbon’s The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empires, say), the literary speed of the most rapidly hurtling bullet, and so many provocative scientific  and / or philosophical ideas that even Steven Hawking’s head might well spin with them. Moreover, Reynolds artfully compresses all these disparate elements into a portable trade paperback or a weightless e-file, the better to accommodate our busy reading habits and the more fully to entertain us.

“Let me also note that Slow Bullets posits a far-future situation akin to the one that we confront on planet Earth today, but leavens his fictional crisis with a hard-won grasp of human psychology and a down-to-the-ground optimism that bestows on its readers reasons for supposing our ‘dammed human race’ nimble enough to overcome our demanding real-world crisis du jour. A fine example of the true science fictionist’s art . . . ‘with a bullet,’ as the editors at Billboard Magazine  used to say.”
—Michael Bishop, author of A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire, And Strange at Ecbatan                                                                                                                        the Trees, and Transfigurations

“Alastair Reynolds is the world’s best writer of space opera. If you have any doubts, then read Slow Bullets.”
—Allen Steele, author of Coyote and Spindrift

“The writing is tight, the characters are well developed, and the story itself moves along at a cracking pace.”
Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Corner

 Slow Bullets  is classic science fiction, a space opera, a puzzle story, a character study, visionary science fiction, and a prayer for peace.  I see no reason why you should not love it.”
—Michael Swanwick, author of Tales of Old Earth and Dancing with Bears

“Alastair Reynolds weaves a tapestry of dark, dystopian societies in a tense, colorful narrative.”
New York Journal of Books

“…his writing mixes spartan style, provocative ideas, and flashes of dark humor…. Reynolds excels at weaving different threads together….”
Los Angeles Review of Books

Slow Bullets captured my attention and did not let up until the ride was over…. Highly recommended.”

“It’s a more intimate vision than what I encountered until now in Reynolds’ books, but for this very reason it felt more profound and poignant than any other I read so far, and it gave me a new level of interpretation for this author, and a key to a new way of reading his stories. Highly recommended, both for Reynolds’ admirers and as an introduction to this author.”
Space and Sorcery

“a great introduction to Reynolds’ style and skill.”
Fantasy Literature

Slow Bullets is a tightly focused tale that moves forward at a brisk and entertaining pace. It is a satisfying story of survival mixed with an intriguing mystery.”

“…eminently worthwhile…”
Green Man Review

“Fantastic little piece of space noir. It’s not often a short novella will congruously go places the reader could not even guess in the first few pages, but this story does so flawlessly.  As always, Reynolds writes excellent female protagonists, who get to have identities not at all anchored to their gender.
Fat Robot

Slow Bullets, the new novella by Alastair Reynolds is space opera condensed into one of its most potent forms. Mystery, conflict, crisis, strange aliens and a story of interstellar scope – you’ll find it all…”
Worlds in Ink

“…a captivating first-person narrative…”
Wales Arts Review

 “Highly recommended”
Best Science Fiction Books

“Stylistically this is a masterpiece to behold. Slick and polished, Slow Bullets will please the palette of any reader of any genre, not just science fiction.”
Open Book Society

“…effortlessly genius and impossible for me to put down.”
Little Red Reviewer

“Slow Bullets is a confident read from Reynolds that will please fans and newcomers alike, and hopefully it will draw in new readers and encourage them to explore more of the writer’s work. Highly Recommended.”
The Fictional Hangout

“Reynolds is good at any length, but really shines with novellas like this one.”
SF Signal

“The story that Slow Bul­lets became had me enthralled. . . . If science fiction, mystery, and political thrillers intrigue you, I highly recommend Slow Bul­lets.”
The Warbler

“I recommend Slow Bullets to all SF fans . . . It is a great addition to the genre, with all the conflict, science, technology and space that any SF could want in a novella.”
Always Trust in Books

Slow Bullets is incredible, it is a superbly balanced story packed full of ideas and subtlety. It’s also not only the finest of Reynolds work so far but it’s one of the finest nuggets of science fiction you could read anywhere.”
SF Book Reviews

“A rousing drama of revenge – which, in a moving finale, Reynolds subverts with a wonderfully compassionate resolution.”
UK Guardian

About the Author

Alastair Reynolds is the bestselling author of twelve novels including the Revelation Space series. He has received the British Science Fiction Award for his novel Chasm City, as well as the Seiun and Sidewise awards, and was shortlisted for the Hugo and Arthur C. Clarke awards. In 2013, he published a Dr. Who tie-in novel, Harvest of Time, with BBC Books. Reynolds has a Ph.D in Astronomy and worked for the European Space Agency before he left to write full time. He currently lives with his wife in Barry, Wales.

Praise for Alastair Reynolds

“The UK’s pre-eminent hard- sci-fi author of the past decade.” 

On Galactic North 

“Dark, vicious science fiction.” 

“The stories are written with real energy. Dark, satirical and frequently dystopian…. Reynolds ensures his taut narratives grip from the first sentence.” 
—Jonathan Wright, SFX 

“Dark, gothic and graphic, with tightly composed narratives full of shocks and jaw-dropping moments. Atmosphere and economically-drafted characters are as important as the big ideas.”
—Dave Golder, BBC FOCUS

On Pushing Ice

“…he has a genius for big-concept SF and fans of Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama and Larry Niven’sRingworld will love this novel.
Publishers Weekly

“Alastair Reynolds, an astrophysicist and the author of six previous novels, including the critically acclaimed Revelation Space series (beginning with the title novel in 2000), has established a reputation as the purveyor of big ideas in science fiction, particularly in the space-opera genre.”
Bookmarks Magazine

Visit the Alastair Reynolds website.


My mother had a fondness for poetry. When my sister died, but before the news of my own conscription, mother showed me passages from a work by Giresun. It was a poem called “Morning Flowers.”

This was an illegal act.

Giresun was the official war poet for the Central Worlds. Her works were banned in the Peripheral Systems, considered propaganda. But Giresun had been famous before the war, and my mother had collected several of her anthologies. She was supposed to have handed these books in during one of the amnesties. My mother could not do that.

One of them had been a gift from Vavarel, with an inscription in Vavarel’s beautiful flowing hand.

My sister had always had better handwriting than me.

“Morning Flowers” was about death and remembrance. It was about accepting the death of a loved one while holding onto the bright thread of their life.

Giresun was a great comfort to me during that time. But I could never speak of her work beyond our home, and after my conscription I had no way of taking her poem with me. I tried to remember it, but even the few short versus of “Morning Flowers” were too much for me.

Anyway, a ceasefire was eventually declared.

Many ships skipped into orbit around a neutral planet called Wembere. The military and political leaders agreed to their complicated and contentious terms. Before solemn witnesses they used things called pens to make markings on a thin, skinlike substance called paper, using a material called ink. They had been ending wars this way for thousands of years.

You will have to take my word about these things.

There was a problem, though. The skipships were the only way to send messages at faster than light speeds, so it took time for the news to spread. To begin with, not everyone believed that the ceasefire was real. Even when neutral peacekeepers came in to our system, the fighting continued.

Near the end of things I was on one of these patrols when I ended up separated from my unit. I was trying to re-establish communications and work out how to get back into our sector when I ran into an enemy sweep squad.

There were four of them: Orvin and three of his soldiers.

I knew a little about Orvin, even then. I had heard stories about this man who operated under the enemy’s flag but broke even their rules of war. It was said that when the ceasefire came, both sides would be lining up to put him to trial. He caught me, and took me to the bunker. It was a low, armoured building that had been blasted and abandoned. It was cold and full of rubble, there was no glass in the windows. A mottling of dark red blood on the walls and floor showed where Orvin had already killed people.

His three soldiers held me down on a metal-framed bed that smelled of piss and death. Orvin used a knife to cut a gash in my trousers, running from the knee to the upper thigh. I tried to thrash and kick, but the soldiers were much too strong.

“Hold her down,” Orvin said.

He was a big man, taller and broader than any soldier in my unit. His skin was the colour and texture of meat. His face also seemed too small for his head. It was as if his eyes and nose and mouth were not quite in proportion to the rest of him, a too-small mask. He had white hair, cropped close to his scalp, and white eyebrows. The hair and eyebrows stood out strongly against the meat-colour of his skin.

He had a trolley next to him. Very delicately he put the knife down onto the trolley. He had huge pink hands. His nail-less fingers were so thick and stubby that it made his hands seem babyish.

“Haven’t you heard?” I asked, feeling the urge to say something. “It’s over. Peacekeepers are here. We’re not enemies now.”

He produced from a lower shelf of the trolley a copy of the Book. It was a black rectangle, full of sheets of material like the paper I mentioned earlier, only much thinner.

They had been marked with ink, but done using a machine rather than a pen. From the scuffed cover, I recognised the Book as the one that had been issued to me.

“Do you believe this?” Orvin asked.


“They say all you Peripherals read the Book.” He paged through the Book, having trouble turning the pages with his thick fingers. “We have our own Book, too. For the most part our people are too educated to attach any significance to its contents.”

“Not what I heard.”

It was a risk, arguing with this man. But agreeing with him would have brought no favours.

Orvin began to tear pages out of the Book. They detached too easily, the way wings come off an insect. He crushed them up between his fingers and dropped them to the floor. He moved his leg as if mashing his boot on the pages.

“It won’t work,” I said. “You can’t provoke me like that. I’m not a believer.”

“Then we’ve that much in common,” Orvin conceded, allowing the Book to drop from his baby fingers, onto the rubble.

He returned his attention to the trolley, moving his hand through different items. I thought for a moment he was going to pick up the knife again, but instead he came up with a thing shaped like a gun. It was made of white-coloured metal and seemed heavy in his hands.

It had a large trigger, with a hose running to a pressurised reservoir.

Orvin ran his hand along the barrel of the thing.

“You know what this is?”


“I know your name is Scurelya Timsuk Shunde,” Orvin went on. “I pulled your data from your slow bullet. Where you were born. Your family. That odd business with your conscription. Your subsequent military history. The skips that brought you to this system. The times you were hurt.”

“Then you don’t need me to say anything.”

Orvin smiled tightly. “Do you remember when they put the bullet into you?”

“I’m a soldier. Who doesn’t remember?”

He gave a little nod of sympathy. “Yes, we used them on our side as well, or a virtually identical technology.” He made sure I got a good look at the gun-shaped thing.

“There’s a slow bullet in this injector, programmed and ready for insertion.”

“Thanks, but I already have one.”

“I know that.”

“Then you should also know about the transponder signal. My side will be zeroing in on it as we speak.”

“I could always cut the bullet out before they get here,” Orvin said.

“And kill me in the process.”

“That’s true. And you’re right—there wouldn’t be any point putting a second slow bullet into you. This one’s had a few alterations, though. Shall I tell you what they are?”

“Go fuck yourself.”

“Normally there’s not much pain. The medics military use a topical anaesthetic to numb the entry area, and the slow bullet puts out another type of drug as it travels through your insides. It goes very slowly, too—or at least it’s meant to. Hence the name, of course. And it avoids damaging any vital organs or circulatory structures as it progresses to its destination, deep enough inside your chest that it can’t be removed without complicated surgery. But this one’s different. It’s going to hurt like the worst thing you’ve ever known and it’s going to keep burrowing through you until it reaches your heart.”


Orvin let out a little laugh. “Why not?”

I tried to fight—I had no control over that—but I always knew it was useless. The soldiers had me held down too well. Orvin leaned in and pressed the nozzle of the injector against the skin of my thigh where he had already cut away my trousers. I watched his hand tighten on the trigger, and heard a sound like a single whip crack. It was the air going through the gun.

The bullet entered me. It felt like a hammer blow. The gun made a sort of slow, satisfied sigh as the air went out of it.

For a second, maybe less, the pain was less than I had feared. Then it hit, and I screamed. It was what they had been wanting, and I hated myself for it, but there was nothing I could do about that.

“Can you feel it in you?”

Orvin pulled the injector away and cleaned the end of it on a scrap of rag. He put the gun down on the trolley.

“Fuck you.” I said.

“This is just the start, Scurelya. In an hour or two it’ll hurt much more than this. By then, you’ll be begging for me to make the bullet explode, so that it kills you instantly.”

“They’ll find out,” I said, fighting hard to get the words out. “They’ll find out and find you.”

“Oh, I don’t think so. It’s a big universe out there. Lots of systems, lots of chaos and confusion. I have my plans.”

Where the bullet had gone in was a small hole, no wider than my little finger. I could feel the bullet moving itself, contracting and extending like a mechanical maggot.

A little bump in my skin signalled where the bullet was pushing through underneath.

I was certain as I could be that I was going to die in that place. It would either happen when the bullet reached my heart (or some other vital part of me) or when I managed to persuade Orvin to make the bullet explode, as all the bullets were capable of doing. If it blew up now, it would probably take my leg off and leave the rest of me alive, at least for a while.

Obviously I did not die in the bunker.