ALISTAIR REYNOLDS'S Blue Remembered Earth is an engrossing opening to his projected "Poseidon's Children" trilogy. Reynolds is among the first guard of practitioners of the New Space Opera, a flourishing literary movement that began as a mostly British phenomenon. New Space Opera incorporates contemporary political, economic, and social concerns into frameworks of story that first emerged in the early SF pulps. Yet BRE very consciously eschews the galaxy-spanning narratives embraced by, say, fellow Brit Peter F. Hamilton in his most recent "Void Trilogy" (2007-2010), choosing instead to create a limited but emotionally stirring sense of wonder, and focusing on humanity's niche in the galactic void. Readers will not find in BRE the brooding and often doomed tone characteristic of the British New Wave of the 1960s and '70s, nor will they encounter the gritty yet sometimes sophomoric voice of the cyberpunk movement of the 1980s and '90s. What they will find instead is a small-scale space opera (the action never leaves our solar system) tempered by technological limitations (there is no faster-than-light drive) but informed by an infectious sense of optimism about humanity's future. BRE is a deeply romantic novel that updates a hallowed strain of SF, showcasing its most powerful qualities.
BRE is at its most basic level a quest narrative. Geoffrey Akinya belongs to the latest generation of a moneyed and powerful African family. He is the grandson of Eunice Akinya, a near-mythic figure who built the Akinya business empire. Geoffrey is no businessman, however, spending his days studying the elephants of the Amboseli Basin; yet his role as outsider changes when he accepts a proposal from his two cousins, Hector and Lucas Akinya, to travel to the moon to claim a safety deposit box that Eunice secreted away before her death. What follows is a scavenger hunt that finds Geoffrey joined by his sister Sunday, a struggling artist who leads a bohemian life on the moon. Along for the ride are Jitendra, Sunday's boyfriend, and Jumai, Geoffrey's adventurous ex-girlfriend.
As the siblings follow Eunice's trail of clues, they align themselves with a couple of renegade scientists who share Geoffrey's love of elephants. The siblings also join with representatives from the Panspermian Initiative, a movement dedicated to the colonization of space and the transformation of the human body, and with a construct of Eunice Akinya, a living incarnation of all the information available on the matriarch's life. The protagonists' adventures furnish a vehicle for evoking this wonder-riddled future: a trip below the ocean to the United Aquatic Nations, the home of the Pans; a trip to Mars where Sunday and Jitendra explore the Evolvarium, a landscape populated by semi-sentient machines that vie for survival by constantly reconfiguring and updating themselves; an encounter with The Aggregate, the Evolvarium's largest and most dangerous predator; a couple of trips on the Earth-to-Moon space elevator; a jaunt to the Kuiper Belt in orbit around Neptune; and a glimpse of an extraterrestrial artifact that will figure prominently, I am sure, in the projected sequels.
BRE takes place in the second half of the twenty-second century, around 2160, well after the "five-point-nine-kiloyear event" - an "aridification episode, a great dying" - that dramatically changed Earth's climate. And yet humanity endured. As one character puts it:...read more