Alastair Reynolds – On the Steel Breeze

Having taken ages to read Blue Remembered Earth, I was a little quicker in catching up with its sequel. This picks up the story of the Akinya family a couple of centuries later.

In the last book, a major discovery was made – unambiguous evidence of alien construction on an exoplanet. Together with the developments in physics leading to engines that can accelerate huge ships to a quite noticeable percentage of the speed of light, this has led to a huge colonisation plan. Massive ships containing millions of people are on their way to the planet that has been named Crucible.

In a slightly odd development, it was decided that the ships would burn their engines for longer, and so cut the journey time from over 300 years to somewhere around 250 years. This has the slight drawback that the ships won’t be able to slow down again, and the occupants are kind of sort of hoping that someone on the many ships will work out some even fancier new physics which will let them make even more impressive engines so they can slow down. This has been made more complicated after an experiment with some very exotic physics led to the complete destruction of one of the ships. It’s made even more complicated after a smaller accident leads to a clampdown on dangerous research.

The central character this time manages to be in several places at once – Chiku Akinya, niece of Geoffrey from the first book, has had herself cloned and her memories replicated, so there are three of her, none of whom can be sure who’s the original. Chiku Yellow has stayed on Earth, Chiku Red has gone on a desperate mission to locate Eunice, matriarch of the family, and possibly some advanced physics. Chiku Green is on Zanzibar, one of the holoships heading to Crucible.

At the time we join the story, Chiku Red is lost, presumed dead, and Chiku Yellow is attempting to restore a kind of memory link with Chiku Green, which will enable them to experience each other’s lives, with the slight time lag of a decade or two, due to the speed of light and all that.

All of this could lead to a fascinating and enthralling story, but this being an Al Reynolds book, there’s much more.

For a start, the machines sent ahead to Crucible to build cities for the colonists may not be operating to their original instructions. And for that matter, the data about Crucible, released by the artificial intelligence known as Arachne, might have missed out some key details…

There’s  much more to it than that, of course, but I’d rather not reveal too much. But I will say that the ending sets things up for the next volume, with great changes just taking place on Earth and in deep space.