After what I’m afraid I’m going to have to call Elephants in Space!!!! in the Poseidon’s Children trilogy, Al Reynolds has popped off in another direction with his first novel aimed at what the industry likes to call the YA market, or “young adult”. Not at all sure who came up with that label, but it sounds oddly patronising to me, but hey, never mind, it’s a new-ish Al Reynolds book, and it needs talking about.
First, let’s deal with the background. We’re deep in the future – millions of years, and the setting is the Congregation, a collection of engineered worldlets surrounding a fading star, always referred to as the Old Sun. People, who appear to be human, know they’re living in the “Thirteenth Occupation”, the latest in a long line of phases of inhabitation of the Congregation. Societies have risen and fallen over many years, some leaving behind technology that can be used, but not understood.
Some people make a living from collecting ancient artifacts from “Baubles”, worldlets that are surrounded by what, for want of another word, I’ll call force fields which periodically open for long enough to allow sufficiently motivated people to explore their often booby-trapped depths.
Travel is by small light-sail powered ships, communication by short-range radio “squawk” or more interestingly, by a form of telepathy mediated by old alien skulls. A “bone reader” connects to a skull and can pick up communications from other readers.
Anyway, being a YA novel, we’re in the hands of a teenage protagonist, Arafura Ness, who prefers to be called Fura. With her older sister Adrana, she signs on board a ship as a bone reader, which leads to deep trouble.
It’s a slow starter, as is often the case with Reynolds, but it gives us time to get to know Fura, or at least get to know the side of her that’s telling the story. But once things get going, I found this a lot more of interest than the elephants. Separated from her sister, Fura is determined to get her back, and crosses more than one line in the attempt.
There’s an actual Villain to contend with, but is that villain all she seems? Or is she something altogether more complex?
Once it gets going, it’s good page-turning stuff, with lots of action, some ultraviolence and fancy ancient technology. Fura speaks in a distinctive voice, and is a fascinating (if at times disturbing) narrator.
The setting has the potential for many more stories, and perhaps more of the backstory will be revealed in future.
Worth a read.
 It takes me a while to catch up with things sometimes…