Review: Blue Remembered Earth by Alistair Reynolds

Blue Remembered Earth by Alistair Reynolds
Blue Remembered Earth by Alistair Reynolds

Blue Remembered Earth
Alistair Reynolds
Ace, 2012

Alistair Reynolds, known for his massive doorstopping space operas full of characters and packed to physics-defying density with ridiculously cool ideas, makes a jump to something a little more grounded in his most recent novel Blue Remembered Earth. While it too is packed full of ideas it offers them up on a narrower scope instead focusing on the legacy of a single family rather than the galaxy spanning multi-generational interwoven epic of his Revelation Space books. That narrowing of context and the grounding of the plot along a single family line make Blue Remembered Earth, all 512 pages of it, a positively breezy read.

Blue Remebered Earth opens with a flashback sequence introducing us to Geoffrey Akinya who, as a young child, witnesses the death of an elephant at the hands of his houses steward/protector. This single event, as we learn several pages laster, had a lasting impact on Geoffrey who years later has become (along with his sister) the black sheep of the family whose has shunned their intragalactic empire in favor of studying elephants in the nearby Amboseli basin. Geoffrey’s sedate and comfortable life is interupted by the death of his grandmother Eunice, founder of his family’s fortune, whose legacy he and his family stands to inherit. From their Geoffrey reluctantly agrees, after sufficient carrots are dangled, to investigate a safety deposit box left by his grandmother on behalf of his more agressively business minded cousins. That seemingly simple task sends Geoffrey’s life in a wildly unexpected and wholly different direction.

Blue Rembered Earth depicts Earth and some of the nearer celestial bodies on the cusp of posthuman development. This is a universe in the midst, though not quite, past a state of technological singularity that has begun rewrite the social order in staggering ways. Readers are given a glimpse of things like the United Aquatic Nations, who have biologically modified themselve to live underwater and who are tied to what are considered somewhat radical post-human motives. Geoffrey himself uses neural implants in both himself and his elephants to modify his thought processes to more accurately understand the inner workings of the elephant mind. It is a fascinating world that Reynolds only scratches the surface of giving readers little glimpses here and there and only revealing just enough information to be relevant to the plot of the story.

The novel explores the difference between the managed Mechanism, an overarching network that governs human behavior on Earth, and the Descrutinized Zone a Mechanism-free area located on the dark side of the moon. Geoffrey’s sister Sunday Akinya serves as the book’s primary access point for introducing more open and freethinking folks of the Descrutinized Zone and the vast differences between the siblings’ approaches to life makes for easy examination of how technological and economical developments can influence society in varying situations. The more managed progress mitigated by the Mechanism is constrained by rules and regulations meaning that the technological advances in the world Blue Remembered Earth are applied to society a slow and deliberate pace; not quite stagnation but edging perhaps a bit too close for comfort. Reynolds application of this comparison is subtle and never preaches in favor of one of the various societies seen throughout the novel. In each case Reynold extrapolates who a society might react to a massive technological shift and simple presents it without a major authorial bias. Thus much of the comparison occurs through reader observation allowing for an impartial examination of life in the future of Blue Remembered Earth.

Blue Remembered Earth, while constantly moving, unfurls its plot slowly offering carefully doled out drip and drabs of information as Geoffrey’s quest moves ever forward. Through Geoffrey’s explorations the reader is taken on a tour of the future and introduced to new ideas that each manage to add a new layer to the world that Reynold’s has created. Moreso than in my previous experiences with Reynold’s work I closed the book feeling more connected to Geoffrey than any character from his previous work. Not always the most likeable of individuals Geoffrey flaws and rather simple life goals helped to sketch a character who felt real. The first in a trilogy Blue Remembered Earth is more accessible to those easily turned off by the hard sci-fi typcial of Reynolds’ previous novels. Its more intimate plot is so carefully interwoven with how science and technology may affect society. This is an immensely satisfying read and I look forward to seeing how the Akinya family influences Reynolds’ future Earth.

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