Book Review: Galactic North by Alastair Reynolds

One day I will eventually get around to re-reading Alastair Reynolds Revelation Space books so that I can post thorough reviews but the truth is, at the moment they are such a distant memory that I couldn’t do them justice from half-remembered scenes and a clear understanding of the implications of the climax of each novel. They are complex books that really do require a re-read. Until then, I’m afraid you are going to have to make do with this collection of eight short stories and novellas set in the same universe. This is my first re-entry back into Reynolds’ universe for a few years.

The first short story, The Wall of Mars, is the first chronologically according to wikipedia so it makes sense to have this first in the collection. It features Nevil Clavain, butcher of Tharsis, the complex and interesting sort-of-hero character from the original books arriving on Mars with a proposal of peace between The Coalition and the Conjoiners. The early part of the short story includes a brief reminder of how the Conjoiners, Coalition and Demarchists came to be (reminder for those who have already read the main body, an introduction to those that haven’t – though I wouldn’t recommend starting the series with this collection).

The second work is called Glacial. Clavain features again in this 50 page tale. In an icy region of the Earth-like planet Diadem, Clavain is investigating the destruction of a research facility. It is an interesting mystery plot that gradually appears to reveal a murder but the real beauty of the piece is the illustration of the complexity of Clavain and how he is adjusting to being a Conjoiner and not quite fitting in.

Third is the bizarre A Spy in Europa. Not particularly enjoyable and feeling like an infodump to introduce a small society that is hostile to the Demarchists, told via the medium of a spy-thriller. It discusses and introduces some of the back plot regarding the fall of Europa. It has probably been too long since I read a Revelation Space novel for me to understand the context (or perhaps because I have not read The Prefect).

In the fourth short story we have Weather. Written in first person by a narrator on board the ship Petronel, an independent (and the narrator is keen to point out legitimate) trade ship crewed by Ultras. Their cargo is a group of people in hypersleep travelling very long distance and in the course of that journey the ship is attacked by pirates. When a freak accident leads to the defeat of the pirates, the crew storm the pirate ship to discover a Conjoiner girl on board. I liked this story though it was a little predictable in the end.

The fifth story is the shortest in the collection. Entitled Dilation Sleep, Uri is prematurely awoken from a cryogenic sleep by a holographic simulation of his wife. She informs him that there is a medical emergency, one of the other crew members is infected with Melding Plague and must be operated on. But Uri isn’t alone, or he doesn’t think he is, as he keeps seeing a ghostly image that is most definitely not his wife. Although this plays out more or less like a ghost story, Reynolds doesn’t do ghosts so something else is clearly going on. An interesting twist at the end though it does end rather abruptly.

Sixth is Grafenwalder’s Bestiary and finally we return to Chasm City for the first time since, ummmm, Chasm City. Grafenwalder collects exotic bio-engineered animals, the weirder the better and is delighted to discover that some Ultras have arranged to acquire for him a hamadryad. When it turns out that a rival has one, he asks them to kill hers. This is arguably the most complex story in the collection that explores the genetic technology of Revelation Space. As with the main books, Reynolds shies away from making moral points about genetic engineering, treating it as an every day thing.

In Nightingale, soldier Dexia Scarrow has arrived on the city “Sky’s Edge” having been summoned by Officer Tomas Martinez to form a team to capture Colonel Brandon Jax. Early on in the mission, it is revealed that the Colonel has taken refuge aboard the medical ship (the titular “Nightingale”). The crew are not particularly happy with this state of affairs as both sides in the war had believed the ship destroyed. This is the longest story in the collection and enough time is given to settle into the situation, characters and wider story to get comfortable with the complex plot.

Galactic North gives us another pirate attack, this time aboard the ship “Hirondelle”. The Captain fails to activate a weapon in time and she is interrogated into revealing the cargo of colonists in hypersleep. She later wakes up with no memory of the interrogation and discovers that one of the pirates has been abandoned along with her. To earn her trust, she removes a mind-control device that had been implanted in Captain Irravel’s brain. We are then introduced to another familiar character – the Conjoiner known as Remontoire when the pair wake him from hypersleep. I really enjoyed this short story; it does not go where you expect it will go and is set over the course of thousands of years. The end of the story is reminiscent of some of the events of Absolution Gap.

Reynolds finishes with a short account of the chronology of Revelation Space and the context in which these stories fit (admitting that they probably don’t as he’s not a stickler for fine detail!)

With this conclusion I realise that I only have The Prefect to read and I’ve read the entire series published to date. Reynolds has not stated either way whether any further books in the series will be forthcoming but as Pushing Ice, Century Rain, House of Suns, Terminal World and the very recent Blue Remembered Earth have all been published since The Prefect was released, he doesn’t seem in any rush.

I should make it a future challenge to read them all again in order.

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