Wednesday, 13 February 2002

Alastair Reynolds: Chasm City (2001)

Edition: Gollancz, 2001
Review number: 1064

Reviews of Revelation Space, Reynolds' first novel, compared it to Dan Simmons' Hyperion. In terms of quality and subgenre, this comparison is justified; both are extremely good space operas. Chasm City is much more like Simmons in style and content than its predecessor; and without being derivative it maintains the standard.

Set in the same universe as Revelation Space, it takes place some time earlier. Its central character (and narrator) is former soldier and security expert Tanner Mirabel, from the backward world of Sky's End, ruined by generations of warfare. When his employer and his employer's wife are murdered in the jungle, Tanner follows the man who arranged the killings to Yellowstone, thirty light years away. This trip for vengeance is one he can't easily return from, as his home will have greatly changed - travel is slower than light though with suspended animation. Even so, knowing that the last news he heard about Yellowstone is years out of date, he is totally unprepared for what he finds on one of the most technically advanced planets. A massive plague has basically turned all the nanotechnology wild, causing huge numbers of deaths as it mutates and leaving a shanty town in place of the main settlement on the planet, Chasm City, and causing the destruction of many of the orbitals which once filled much of the available space around Yellowstone.

This is not the only problem facing Tanner on his arrival, as he is suffering from a form of amnesia which is an occasional side effect of the revival from cryogenic freezing, and he appears to have been infected with an engineered virus, a piece of nanotechnology used by a cult on Sky's End for indoctrination - a truly frightening science fiction idea which I have not seen elsewhere even though nanotech is a trendy subject at the moment. These things combine to produce doubts of his own identity, a strange (and ambitious) effect in a first person narrative which is convincingly done by Reynolds.

Chasm City is perhaps not as involving as Revelation Space, but it certainly confirms Reynolds as one of the outstanding new writers of science fiction of this decade.

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