House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds

Read January 2020
Recommended for Reynolds fans
 ★     ★   

 Surprisingly uninteresting.

(Un)profound thoughts on genre: every genre has its icons, and Reynolds seems to be one of science fiction’s favorites, with at least sixteen books and many, many, more shorts and novellas. With a PhD in astrophysics, he even has the professional cred in science. But can he write?

The Dan 2.Ω and carol. jury is still out on that one. I can tell you that he is in desperate need of editing.

I’ve been finding myself asking, are genre icons too big to fail? Everyone in-genre raves about so-and-so; everyone out-genre doesn’t get what the big deal is. “Oh, if only you try the other series,” “They get good after the fourth book in the series,” “It’s not until Book XX that it gets really good.” What is it about a fan base that allows for these kinds of excuses?

No. Just no.

To like an author’s writing does not mean you have to like a whole body of work. To be an ardent fan of one series does not mean you have to support the other. Discrimination is indeed allowed, and these authors would probably benefit–indeed, we might all benefit–if someone should feel confident about saying, “no, this isn’t very good at all” without worrying about feelings. Conversely, perhaps fandom should stop being so obsessively hungry for stories that they pressure authors to “Write more books in the XXX series,” “Finish telling the story of X and Y,” and “Can we please hurry and make a movie out of this book?”

No. Just no.

Look for and expect something beyond mediocrity from people who have the wherewithal to produce it.

Specifics, for me. This is not a particularly well-done story. The writing is adequate, occasionally nice.

Characterization has been pushed and stretched into what is needed for plot. There’s a culture that is millennia old, that behaves with the self-indulgence and impetuousness of youth, and that has remained impossibly naive. Aside from five main characters (arguable), new ones who are introduced aren’t distinguished far beyond a particular trait, which is then repeatedly referenced for the reader (‘the leader,’ ‘the mismatched eyes,’ ‘beautiful,’ etc). Centuries old beings observing the rise and fall of civilizations are duped not once, but repeatedly. The Shatterling’s House culture is barely explained, so that we may accept things that happen, such as it’s unacceptable to arrive fifty years late to a Reunion, long-term coupling with other Shatterlings is unacceptable, as well as (spoiler).

The plot sputters like an engine running out of gas. It begins strangely, with our couple late for the Reunion, and then side-tracked in the process of trying to buy a faster ship (although one half of the couple already has the fastest ship of them all) and then many pages of dialogue about all the things preceding and upcoming. There’s a major space action sequence, that finally adds a lot of tension, then many, many, more pages of dialogue about everything that just happened.

At the same time, there’s a parallel story that takes place millennia in the past involving a young girl, Abigail, her playmate and a immersion cube, and the medieval castle setting where the two play. As an aside, the modern timeline also seems to be about a female Shatterling’s emotional connection to her current companion, Campion, and a Machine Person.

The ‘science’ here has officially reached the maximum of being so far advanced that it resembles magic, only in this case, it is pretty much magic, with duel options of travelling in stasis or slowed-down time, living millennia long, ‘whisking’ between ships or within (teleporting), planet-wide energy fields containing destructive star energies, ships miles long, asteroid homesteads using black holes for energy, etc.

Is it a love story? A redemption story? Is it about how Abigail came to make the Shatterlings? Is it a mystery about (mild) (spoiler) Is it about the Absence in the sky? The Machine Person? It feels like Reynolds is trying to pull of something big and can’t quitepull the threads together. It mostly feels like Tommy and Tuppance In Space.

Poor characterization + uneven plotting + weird science (and I don’t mean the 1980s kind) = barely finish.

Two stars, for a resounding ‘meh.’

About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
This entry was posted in Book reviews, Science fiction and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds

  1. I read this book once, years ago, and the ‘interrogation scene(s)’ (key word: sectioning) still disturbs me whenever I remember it. I don’t remember much else of the story, though — it must have been rather forgettable.

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