(Photograph: Martin Godwin/Guardian)
Another trio of reviews for Alastair Reynolds’ action-packed SLOW BULLETS.
From VAL’S RANDOM COMMENTS:
Alastair Reynolds has been producing novels at a steady pace now since the turn of the century. He’s also written quite a few pieces of short fiction. SLOW BULLETS is a new novella, published by Tachyon in June. The publisher was kind enough to provide me with an advance copy. It looks like they decided to keep with the old cover style. His UK publisher Gollancz recently changed the cover style for his novels. They kept the font but the dark covers have been dropped. SLOW BULLETS is uncut space opera and doesn’t appear to be related to any of his other works. I also found it to be light on physics that are included in many of Reynold’s other works. It could be considered a good starting point for readers wanting to explore his works.
SLOW BULLETS is a very enjoyable novella. Reynolds makes some bold choices over the course of the story and not everybody will like those. In the end I think it turned out quite well. The novella does not quite have the beauty of some of Reynold’s other novellas but in a way the rough structure fits the story. It is different enough from much of Reynolds’ other works that it will be interesting reading for people who have read his novels, but also contains enough recurring elements that to make it a decent entry point for new readers. It might not be the very best Reynolds has produced but it is not that far off either. You could do worse than pick up this novella.
In general, Reynolds doesn’t avoid the weightier social themes that other popular genre authors shy away from or even incompetently, inorganically incorporate into their books. Religion, war, culture, history, knowledge, personal identity and the meaning and evolution of civilization over the course of centuries are all concerns we see incorporated into this short novel on some level. As opposed to shoving these concerns into the novel in an attempt to give it some shallow sense of depth, they instead appear at significant, relevant points as the story progresses. The ship’s memory is failing. What information do they attempt to save first? Religious texts? Medical knowledge? Why? In ways like that. It makes the book as a whole a much more cohesive, engaging read that I really enjoyed; it’s nice to see a very much genre story exhibit a sense of depth and meta-consciousness without completely bungling it, making it seem like a shallow paint job or dominating the basic story the author is telling.
So what it all boils down to by the end is a fun, action packed story that incorporates interesting ideas and concepts, some clever plot decisions and an organic sense of depth and speculative awareness. An engaging story that doesn’t try to pander to a particular audience, it starts as an interesting idea and buds into something much more, and also serves as an emphatic reminder I need to lay off all the fantasy very soon and finally get down to reading the Revelation Space series. For those of you wondering if Alastair Reynolds may be for you, this is worth a shot; I’ve been told it very loosely ties into his popular Revelation Space series, in that it hints at one of the more critical back story elements of the series, and that Scur also appears in those books. For science fiction fans looking for space opera that’s about more than just lasers and spaceships, I’d say you’re going to want to consider this one, especially if you’re already curious about the works of Alastair Reynolds like I am.
It’s been a while since I enjoyed an Alastair Reynolds story (novel, novella, or otherwise) this much. The plot moves forward at a consistently swift pace. The main character, Scur, is interesting and engaging. Her conflict with the war criminal Orvin is handled well and is brought to an enjoyable conclusion. In fact, the novella itself came to a much more satisfying and complete end than I would have expected, given its length. Reynolds even fits in a scene of the gruesome techno-horror he does so well, and I quite enjoyed that part too.
But, that minor criticism aside, I really enjoyed this book. Sometimes I’m in the mood for a galaxy spanning epic where the author shows exactly how every little piece of hardware works, and sometimes I hunger for a more compact and focused tale. Slow Bullets satisfies the latter craving in spades.
For more about SLOW BULLETS, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover art by Thomas Canty.
Design by Elizabeth Story.