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An Author’s Blog

On the Steel Breeze (Review)

· by Brett · Read in about 3 min · (566 Words)

I’m reading a novel called On the Steel Breeze, by Alastair Reynolds. It came out quite a while ago, in 2013 According to Wikipedia, and it is the sequel to his 2012 novel Blue Remembered Earth, but it can be read alone.

The novel’s main characters are two clones of a woman called Chiku Akinya. One clone remaines on Earth, while the second embarks on a generation ship heading for the alien planet of Crucible, which is home to a mysterious structure known as the Mandala. One of the two clones faces a series of revelations after a strange accident kills hundreds aboard her generation ship, while the other is sent on a dangerous mission to Venus.

One of the outstanding features of any Reynolds novel are the ideas, and this book includes ideas such as machines being forced to evolve by being made to battle each other, and what it might mean to live in a society where every action is under surveillance. Every page has ideas like this just dripping from them, such as the false sky of the generation ship being incrementally adjusted to be the same as the target planet. The target planet has a different sky because it has a smaller, cooler star that makes everything look slightly more orange. It’s in little details like these that the author’s previous life as an honest-to-goodness scientist really shine through and give the novel a certain hard-sci-fi feeling that I enjoy.

I’m currently at page 232 of about 500, so roughly the half-way mark. I’m enjoying it immensely, though I have always had a soft spot for anything written by Reynolds. It has to be said that it’s not on the level of a work like Revelation Space, which is an observation that comes up in the comments to a very positive review of On the Stell Breeze - that I completely agree with - at The Wert Zone. On the other hand, very few works of sci fi can survive comparison with a masterpiece such as Revelation Space.

Not everyone has had the same positive reaction to On the Steel Breeze however, so your mileage may vary. For example there is a page listing the sci-fi tropes present in the book that makes the book seem a lot less visionary than it really is. The book may be treading ground that has been trod before, but it is doing it from the point of view of a great writer, not a hack. I’ve also seen some criticism of the story being slow and involing some politics that was perceived as boring. But, like I said, this sci fi reader is certainly having a good time with the book.

To end on a positive note, another of the things I like about Reynolds’ writing is how fearless he is in his choice of vocabulary. So far in the book I have come across the words gyre and interstice, and there are more lovely but unusual words besides. Reynolds doesn’t dumb his work down; it’s up to the reader to keep up, and the effort is worth it.

As you can guess from this post, I’m a big sci-fi fan and I’ve written a few ripsnorting space operas myself, but my latest book is actually a zombie novel called Death Sense, a little bit of a departure for me. Read it if you dare.