Playing catchup here. This Al Reynolds book was first published in 2009, and I somehow seem to have missed muttering about it at the time. Having just finished reading it, I’m not entirely convinced I actually read it at the time, either. Parts of it seemed familiar, so I think I may have started it, then been distracted by something else, and then never got around to finishing it. To complicate my memory, the background and characters are definitely familiar, as they appear in the shorter work Thousandth Night, included in the collection Beyond the Aquila Rift, which is also overdue for a report…
Anyway, about that background. We’re into deep future stuff here – and in the usual Reynolds way, it’s a future with strictly no faster than light travel. In the past – six million years or so before the action of the story, a number of insanely rich and powerful people had themselves cloned, and had a thousand clones implanted with their memories, and had them randomly created as male or female. One of these insanely rich and powerful people was Abigail Gentian, who had her own memory adjusted and added herself to the mass of her clones, so that none of them knew which was the original.
These sets of clones became known as Lines (Line Gentian, in Abigail’s case) or Houses (House of Flowers, etc….) and spent the next few million years separately exploring the galaxy, periodically coming together to share their experiences in the kind of gathering seen in Thousandth Night. Now that’s the kind of rich backdrop that could be used for a lot of stories, and perhaps we’ll see more one day, but this one is a wee bit terminal.
The central characters are two of Abigail’s clones – Campion (male) and Purslane (female), who, in defiance of Line tradition are pretty much a couple (casual sex with fellow “shatterlings” is fine, but “consorting” is a bit of a no-no, for reasons of reasons). The fun starts when, thanks to some random adventures, they’re late for the gathering. Which is just as well for them, as almost everyone who wasn’t late now is. As in dead, what with there having been a massive surprise attack in which all but a few stragglers were killed.
And so we’re dropped into a classic Al Reynolds mystery – what possible reason could anyone have for wanting to eliminate a whole Line? What could they have done that would make such a thing necessary? It becomes clear that the answer is lost in the depths of time – a secret that is so bad that everyone edited their memories to remove all knowledge of it.
And that’s just the start – a wild ride follows, with surprises, betrayals, revelations, space battles, and much more.
Good fun. Should have reviewed it earlier!