CBRIII Maneuver #9 – House of Suns
Profile: Hard Science Fiction, Space Opera
Summary: From the back of the book, “Six million years ago, at the dawn of the starfaring era, Abigail Gentian fractured herself into a thousand male and female clones, which she called shatterlings. She sent them out into the galaxy to observe and document the rise and fall of countless human empires. Since then, they gather every two hundred thousand years to exchange news and memories of their travels. Only there is no thirty-second reunion. Someone is eliminating the Gentian Line. And now Campion and Purslane – two shatterlings who have fallen in love and shared experiences in a way forbidden to them – must determine exactly who, or what, their enemy is, before they are wiped out of existence…”
After Action Report:
It’s hard to not have a little bit of admiration for Alastair Reynolds’ books, whether you like them or not. He skillfully crafts stories of almost incomprehensible depth and scope. Stories that span millions of years and entire galaxies. House of Suns is no exception, and while it isn’t the strongest entry into his bibliography, it does justice to Reynolds’ unique take on the space opera and science fiction.
If Revelation Space is the pinnacle of the postmodern space opera, House of Suns is a step back and two steps to the side. (House of Suns in an entirely different cannon than the rest of Reynolds’ works) The elements of great hard SF are all here, and Reynolds uses them effectively to weave the story of Campion and Purslane as they try to unravel the mystery that killed off almost 90% of their family. But the whole book has a somewhat whimsical feel to it, and it feels very out of place in this hard SF epic. The hard SF elements clash strongly with the attitude of the Gentian shatterlings, who seem to take most of their super-technology for granted. And while the way Reynolds depicts the turn-over of the human empires within the meta-civilization is accurate, it weakens the generally pro-humanity outlook of the rest of his cannon.
The interactions between Hesperus, an amnesiac member of a race of sentient machines, and the mechano-phobic Doctor Meninx are almost hilarious in the first section of the book, but when things take a turn for the serious Meninx is excised from the plot and never mentioned or heard from again. And he’s not the only element from Part One that vanishes entirely in part two. It’s almost as if the first 93 pages were part of a different short story that featured the same characters.
The book is also threaded with single chapter peeks into the life of the original Abigail Gentian, some 6 million years earlier. While they are a somewhat interesting look into the collective history of the rest of the protagonists, ultimately these vignettes don’t support, or even apply to, any other elements of the main story.
When it comes down to it, House of Suns is a pessimistic look at the far flung future of humanity. It characterizes us as xenophobic to the point of paranoid psychosis and ultimately unwilling to let our mistakes inform our future culture. Only the strong leading characters salvage an otherwise depressing scenario from its abysmal conclusion, but even the conclusion left me with more questions asked than answered. The quality of the overall book is strong, but there are a lot of things to pick at here. I would recommend almost any of Reynolds’ other books over this one.