Galactic North – Alastair Reynolds

Now this is a Good Thing. I’ve mentioned Alastair Reynolds once or twice before, so you might have gathered that I’m a fan of his work. While I’ve enjoyed all his books so far, I’m particularly keen on the future history setting of Revelation Space, its sequels and associated books. I knew he’d written some shorter stories, and I was meaning to dig through my huge pile of back numbers of Interzone, as I’m sure one or two of them are in there somewhere. One of them is definitely in one of my “Best SF of the Year” books, and sooner or later I’d have got round to that, too. But Reynolds has saved me the trouble by collecting all the published stories in this excellent book, which is currently available in hardback from Amazon at a price that would be a bargain for a paperback. He’s arranged the stories in order on his mostly worked out time line rather than publication order, which works for me.

Anyway, Reynolds’ created universe is one that plays by a few rules. Well, laws of physics. There’s no faster than light travel – the best you can hope for is a form of suspended animation and a lot of time dilation as ships accelerate to a speed that’s a high percentage of lightspeed. In the future, humanity divides into various factions. There are the Conjoiners, who use brain implants and genetic engineering to meld into a hive mind. Then there are Demarchists, who use implants, but keep their minds separate from each other. And the starships are crewed by Ultras, who of necessity augment their bodies.

The stories here range from the relatively near future setting of Great Wall of Mars through to the huge range of time spanned by Galactic North, and along the way provide a lot of background material to the novels – including the first appearances of key characters such as Nevil Clavain.

As anyone who’s read Reynolds before might expect, several of the stories are as much mysteries or thrillers as hard sf, which is something he does very well. All very good stuff, and highly recommended.

The book closes with a very personal afterword, in which Reynolds talks about the some of the inspirations for his future history, and his moderately relaxed attitude to consistency between stories. He also hints that he has ideas for more, which is definitely a Good Thing.

And finally, he pays tribute to David Pringle, founding editor of Interzone, thanking him for buying his early stories and giving his now successful career a start. The book is dedicated to Pringle, which is a nice touch.

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