I just finished a fairly new sci-fi book. When I think back to the older science fiction I read by some of the greatest names in the genre, it’s amazing to think about how the written perception of the future has evolved since the fifties and sixties. In Isaac Azimov’s classic “Foundation” series, one of the characters wears a nuclear powered energy pack. That would be a bit dangerous even by today’s standards. In the Star Trek series, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock bounce around the galaxy at warp speed. This implies the ability to go faster than the speed of light (FTL).
Scientists tell us that FTL travel is not possible, because as Albert Einstein postulated with his theory of relativity (remember good old e=mc2) as you approach the speed of light, mass (which is sort of like weight) approaches infinite size, and correspondingly, it takes more force to get closer and closer to “warp speed.” Assuming you had the fuel necessary to drive your engines, your ship, and all the people inside, the entire vessel would get too heavy to go faster then light.
Sorry for the physics babble. I do have a point here, and that is, some of the new sci-fi writers realize this and consequently their spaceships aren’t capable of FTL travel, but instead are huge, nearly planetary in size. Their characters have life spans that stretch out over great periods of time, due to breakthroughs in science, and near relativistic travel which causes them to have lives that stretch across hundreds, sometimes thousands, and even in millions of years.
Such is the case with “House of Suns” by Alistair Reynolds. This tale of intergalactic intrigue, features a group of a thousand “shatterlings,” male and female clones fractured from a single individual six million years ago. They gather every two hundred thousand years to report on their journeys to the far reaches of the galaxy.
In this universe, information is currency, and ships carry “troves” of information to exchange. However, there is no reunion this time as someone has orchestrated an ambush of the members of the “Gentian” line. Two shatterlings, Campion and Purslane, who arrive late to the reunion have to figure out who is trying to wipe out their brothers and sisters.
This is a much better effort from Reynolds than I previous book I read, “Chasm City.” That book had interesting characters, and a so-so story, but nowhere near as compelling as “House of Suns.”
If you like science fiction, you’ll love this story. It has intelligent robots, passengers who perish under mysterious circumstances, giant space ships several kilometers in size, and technology to envelope stars about to go supernova. In many ways it resembles a soap opera in a space setting. Part of the story is also told from t he point of view of Abigail Gentian, the woman who gave rise to the cloned “House of Flowers” line.
Somehow the science just seems believable. It doesn’t hurt that Reynolds has a PhD in Astronomy, and once worked as an astrophysicist for the European Space Agency.
I don’t want to spoil more of the plot. It was an easy read, and I plowed through the last third of the book in a couple of evening sittings. A grand slam – four stars. That’s four big space giants.
I do wonder, if in six million years time, the Cubs may finally win that elusive World Series.