Alastair Reynolds is one of those writers I’ve been meaning to get round to for quite some time now. But somehow, I never quite got it together to get hold of any of his books until now, even though the descriptions I’d read made them sound like my kind of thing – Big Space Opera, written by an actual astrophysicist. Anyway, Century Rain looked like something special, so I bought it.
The story opens in 1950s Paris, where we meet private detectives and musicians Floyd and Custine. It soon becomes apparent that this 1950s Paris isn’t our 1950s Paris, though it takes a while for the actual difference to become apparent. Floyd is called in to investigate the death of a young woman after the police dismiss it as an accident or suicide.
The action then switches to Paris a few centuries in the future, long after the Earth has been devastated by a nanotechnological disaster. After a field trip goes badly wrong, archaeologist Verity Auger is forced to carry out a dangerous mission. She has to travel through a wormhole system left behind by an unknown alien civilisation to a replica of mid-twentieth century Earth, which is encased in a huge sphere. Verity’s task is to recover some materials left by another agent, who has died in unknown circumstances.
In the finest film noir tradition, Auger and Floyd find themselves thrown together as a deadly conspiracy is revealed. Who killed the other agent? What is Silver Rain, and can it be prevented from being unleashed on the replica Earth? Throw in a few Casablanca references, some good old-fashioned nicely over the top space battle scenes and a lot of humour, and much more.
Humanity has divided into two main factions, known as “Threshers” and “Slashers”. Slashers?
“It’s all right,” Niagara said. “I won’t be the least bit offended if you call me a Slasher. You probably regard the term as an insult.”
“Isn’t it?” Auger asked, surprised.
“Only if you want it to be.” Niagara made a careful gesture, like some religious benediction: a diagonal slice across his chest and a stab to his heart. “A slash and a dot,” he said. “I doubt it means anything to you, but this was once the mark of an alliance of progressive thinkers linked together by one of the first computer networks.”
A slash and a dot? Slashdot??? Serious geek humour
Having enjoyed Century Rain, I’ll be checking out Reynolds’ earlier work – four (rather long) novels and one book of shorter stories. If I like them, I’ll review them here.
 I feel a parallel here: Reynolds was born in South Wales, and studied at Newcastle University.
 Barry, which isn’t all that far from my point of origin
 Where I managed a whole year of an Astrophysics degree before crashing, burning and generally failing
 So called because they believe in keeping on the “threshold” of certain technology…