Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds

This is the latest book I have finished and it’s an Alastair Reynolds novel.

It was delectable.

His writing is so much more on point and focused than Peter F. Hamilton. But, Peter F. Hamilton has other qualities that I like. Reynolds is focused on his storyline, his main storyline. Hamilton develops an innumerable number of story-lines at the same time, all going towards a similar point in time.

This is a spoiler-less review of Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds. No elements of the ending have been revealed.

This novel by Alastair Reynolds was published in 2004 and is a stand alone novel; it isn’t part of the Revelation Space universe, but like Pushing Ice, it has some great writing and ideas.

Contrary to other novels, he includes a form of FTL travel under the guise of a series of connected portals. From what I gather, they aren’t actually artificial wormholes, since instead of using exotic matter, they use something called pathological matter in their make-up. This is a remnant of a race or civilization of races that has disappeared millions of years ago.

In the 22nd century, humanity is divided into two large factions; the Threshers and the Slashers. As with other science-fiction novels, they are divided between ideologies; the so-called Slashers, the proper name is citizens of the Federation of Polities, are integrated with nano-technology. They have vastly superior ships and live beyond the solar system, for the most part. They discovered a network of conduits called the hyperweb which dates back into the far past, millions of years in the past. They control the hyperweb for now, but its appeal is limited since it leads to dead planets. They also have bleed-vacuum drives which enable them to travel the galaxy. But they always come back to Earth, wanting to repair it with their machines. Earth is under the control of the Threshers and they do not want any more machines infecting the dead planet.

The Threshers are localized centrally near Earth. The Threshers get their name from Threshold (Threshold Committee that kept their technology and civilization from the threshold of using/creating nanotechnology), since they refused to have anything to do with nanotechnology, since the Nanocaust that destroyed Earth. Most of the population lives on a series of orbital stations surrounding Earth called Tanglewood. A few centuries ago, there was an accident. In 2027, when Earth’s climate was destabilizing, Earth’s governments deployed nano-technological machines into the atmosphere to control what was left of the climate. At first, all seemed well. Then someone got the idea of seeding intelligence into the nanites. For a while, they worked well, but then they started malfunctioning. It isn’t mentioned if they are true Von Neumann machines, but my guess is that with the distributed intelligence that was seeded into them, replication wasn’t a problem for the machines. As the weeks went by, more and more intelligent machines were deployed in an effort to control the previous generation. It never worked. The nanites who developed a strange kind of feral sentience started to use biological matter to fuel themselves. They started with plankton and moved their way up the food chain. In a matter of days, they had completely destroyed and digested most of the biological matter on Earth. The only survivors were the ones that escaped onto the first primitive orbital stations.

In twenty-two forty-three, a war erupted between the Slashers and the Threshers. The Slashers occupied Mars, on its way to becoming fully terra-formed. Thresher scientists, with the help of some Slasher allies/traitors, modified the nanotechnological spores that destroyed Earth into something infinitely more dangerous. They called it Silver Rain. They seeded these machines into Mars. Being very advanced, so advanced that the safeguards and nano-barriers of the Slashers didn’t block them, the machines infiltrated every living organism on Mars. Once this was done, on a specified date, they detonated and destroyed all living organisms on Mars. They turned everything to dust.

After that, there was a coup back in Tanglewood and the engineers of Silver Rain, political and technological, were tried and executed. This sated the Slashers and a truce ensued.

Thanks to their intelligence service called Contingencies, the Threshers discover that the Slashers have found strange megastructres in space. They are located in between systems and are very large. It is impossible to get any real readings inside. They are called ALS, Anomalous Large Spheres. They have yet to find a way in.

What the Slashers do not know yet, is that the Threshers have found a way in and what they have found is quite strange. It is a functioning double of Earth, called Earth Two by the Threshers and Slasher moderates who work there. E2’s history has been changed from the 1940’s and onward.

I won’t go into any more detail about E2, but suffice it to say that there is some strange reason for E2 to exist. The team sent agents into E2 to investigate. One of them has died. Her name was Susan White. Before dying, she orchestrated events so that the only person who could take her place in E2 would be Verity Auger, an archeologist working for the Antiquities Board of Tanglewood. The department of Contingencies is happy to help out and volunteer Auger, since she is in trouble with the government for a wrongful death that happened while she was trying to extract information on E1.

When Auger is sent to E2 to complete her mission, she discovers more than she bargained for. She unravels a conspiracy that leads her back to E1. With the private detective Wendell Floyd at her side, and the help of moderate Slasher elements, the combined force tries to stop another cataclysm from taking place.

The aggressor elements of the Federation of Polities make their move and the moderates as well as the Threshers try to block them.

This book was a great read. I finished it in two days. I really liked how Reynolds was able to interlace both storylines into one cohesive unit. The setting is interesting, though it’s funny to see that space exploration is limited in this world; the Slashers don’t explore that much and haven’t made any great discoveries.

The ending is interesting as well, I won’t give away any details, but it has a clear resolution and leaves the door open for other novels in the same universe, with the same characters if Reynolds ever wants to continue writing about it.

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Author: range

I'm mathematician/IT strategist/blogger from Canada living in Taipei.

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