Alastair Reynolds has been garnering praise for his three hard SF novels ‘Revelation Space’, ‘Chasm City’ and ‘Redemption Ark’. I can vouch for the first two of these novels (the third as yet unread) and the shorter fiction he published prior to those novels.
In 2002 PS Publishing brought out the novella ‘Diamond Dogs’ in their excellent series, and Golden Gryphon Press brought out the novella ‘Turquoise Days’, both set in this ‘Redemption Space’ setting. And stalwart UK SF publisher Gollancz have cunningly brought those two small-press stories together into one volume. Read on…
Diamond Dogs is set in the Revelation Space future history. One of the few issues I have with his stories is his naming of an orbiting group of cities above one planet as ‘The Glitter Band’. Reynolds is pretty much the same age as me, and I am sure that many of our era from the UK would immediately associate that phrase with Gary Glitter’s backing band of the same name [official website]. And of course ‘Diamond Dogs’ was a Bowie album of that era, the title song of which has been pointed out as having references to Samuel R Delany’s novel ‘Dhalgren’.
The opening location is a familiar one – the Monument to the Eighty. Richard Swift is there, his parents one of that group of people which chose to enrol in Calvin Sylveste’s expiriment in uploading human intelligence into a simulation. The technique he was developing had one problem – the upload destroyed the original biological person. This became particularly problematic when the uploaded AIs began to malfunction.
Swift is met by Roland Childe (not to be confused with ‘Childe Harolde’, the poem written by Lord Byron, whose daughter, Augusta Ada Byron, became Countess Lovelace, and who assisted Charles Babbage in his work on computers, and whose middle name has been used for a programming language). Byron also wrote ‘The Prisoner of Chillon’, a title used by James Patrick Kelly for a story about a man locked within his own obsessions in a castle. But I digress…
Swift is met by Roland Childe, a childhood friend, long believed dead. Childe states that he has spent many decades in cryogenic suspension. A theme of identity is continued from ‘Chasm City’, in that Swift has had memory of his ex-wife, Celestine, wiped from his brain, and a recently recruited colleague of Childe is Dr. Trintignant, who has taken bodily modifcation to an extreme.
Childe is putting together a team to explore a very, very alien tower on a distant planet, and Swift is sufficiently intrigued to join them.
The group begin their exploration of the alien construction, somewhat unnerved by the body parts which lie around, testament to failed attempts by others. Passage from room to room towards the top of the building is dependent upon solving increasingly difficult mathematical puzzles. Failure to solve a puzzle leads to instant and grotesquely violent punishment. Two of the lesser characters die in this way (the equivalent of the red-shirted ensigns from USS Enterprise).
As the team is whittled down in numbers, Childe’s obsession becomes so intense that he undergoes grotesque bodily modification by Trintignant. And finally Swift succumbs to the obsession. The ending, or near-the-ending, is a macabre scene of Child, Swift and Celestine reduced to grotesque parodies of humans, pitting their intellect against the alien tower. And we find just how obsessed Childe has been – the story of the previous expedition is false, and the body parts spat out by the building – they belong to previous clones of Childe.
What would have been my end to the story, with Childe continuing ad infinitum to reach the top of the tower, is followed by Swift and Celestine returning to the ship to find that Swift cannot be returned to his normal state, as Trintigant has committed an almost ritual suicide, so that he cannot be required to undo his greatest work.
And then we have a final, final scene, in which Swift tries, and fails, to live as near normal a life as possible and to forget the tower.
As with the first two of his novels (I haven’t read the third, yet) – his endings don’t quite live up to the preceding story. Although perhaps as I am reading short stories almost exclusively these days, ending a novel is probably not quite as straightforward as ending a short story.
Notwithstanding this quibble, another excellent story, creating gothic vistas and believable far-futures.
Turquoise Days is a slightly shorter story. One of Reynolds’ techniques is to gradually unfold the background as the story develops, which he uses to good effect here.
The first chapter sees sisters Naqi and Mina studying the enigmatic information-processing life form, the Pattern Jugglers, in an aquatic environment. The planetary setting is one which you hope Reynolds will return to, as it is genuinely inventive and original (the cataclysmatic ending need not be an obstacle, as Reynolds has handled this trick before). The planet Turquoise was settled by one colony ship, which was broken up to create a number of floating cities which move around the planet (from time to time marrying and divorcing). The fecund aquatic planet causes decay to inanimate objects, and fungal infections on the population (somewhat more attractive than athlete’s foot).
As news of the first visting spaceship for a century arrives, the sisters have the chance to commune with the Pattern Jugglers, and the pair submerge and become as one with the Jugglers. Only Naqi returns.
Two years later, the spaceship arrives – an Ultra ship, led by Captain Moreau. The ship carries passengers interested in the Pattern Jugglers, and who take an interest in Naqi’s work on isolating Juggler nodes.
As with Reynolds stories, nothing is quite as it seems, and when one passenger appears to be intent on destroying the Jugglers, a more complicated history is revealed (including a passing reference to the tower from ‘Diamond Dogs’.)
A story which, as part of the wide Revelation Space series is particularly interesting, although as a singleton somewhat less powerful than Diamond Dogs.
Still, nice to see two shorter stories being given high-street shelf space by a mainstream publisher, and the PS Publishing/Gollancz link, which has two annual collections of the PS Publishing chapbooks similarly presented, is to be welcomed.