#CBR5 Maneuver #12 – Blue Remembered Earth

Blue Remembered EarthTarget: Alastair Reynolds’ Blue Remembered Earth

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera

Summary: Adapted from Goodreads.com, “One hundred and fifty years from now, in a world where Africa is the dominant technological and economic power, and where crime, war, disease and poverty have been banished to history, Geoffrey Akinya wants only one thing: to be left in peace, so that he can continue his studies into the elephants of the Amboseli basin. But Geoffrey’s family, the vast Akinya business empire, has other plans. After the death of Eunice, Geoffrey’s grandmother, erstwhile space explorer and entrepreneur, something awkward has come to light on the Moon, and Geoffrey is tasked – well, blackmailed, really – to go up there and make sure the family’s name stays suitably unblemished. But little does Geoffrey realise – or anyone else in the family, for that matter – what he’s about to unravel.

Eunice’s ashes have already have been scattered in sight of Kilimanjaro. But the secrets she died with are about to come back out into the open, and they could change everything.  Or shatter this near-utopia into shards…”

After Action Report:

I’ve mentioned this before, but Alastair Reynolds’ novels leave me a little bewildered.  The scope of his settings are daunting and even Blue Remembered Earth, a book that starts and finishes within our own solar system and a scant 150 years in the future, promises to have gotten just as big by the time we get to the end of the Poseidon’s Children series.  Reynolds packs a lot of interesting ideas into this opening novel, but the plot seems to get pushed aside to make room for it all.

Not that Blue Remembered Earth is bad.  It feels like its setting up for something really interesting and, like a lot of setup stories, it doesn’t quite stand on its own.  Reynolds’ attention to detail draws a compelling map to the stars and the future of humanity, but the reason we keep turning pages has nothing to do with Geoffrey Akinya or his sister, Sunday.

Blue Remembered Earth opens on a (relatively) near-future Earth that is recovering from the devastation of rising ocean levels and sudden climate change.  The social and political chaos of the “Resource and Relocation” era brought about a new world order, with an economically empowered Africa rising to the forefront of the world stage.  At the core of Africa’s revival are a number of megacorporations whose efforts halted the rising seas and developed the inner solar system.  The Akinyas are the heirs to one such megacorproration, Akinya Space, brainchild of esoteric genius and explorer Eunice Akinya.  When she passes away at the age of one hundred and thirty, a detailed audit of the family finances turns up a mysterious deposit box on the Moon.

The first arc of the book follows a very quest-like progression as Geoffrey, and later Sunday, track down the clues left by their mother while evading their cousins who want to bury the whole thing.  Through it all we are introduced to the big players of this near-utopia; the continental economic powers of Africa and China, and the United Aquatic Nations (UAN), a collection of submerged cities populated by aquatic transhumans.

In the wake of the horrors of Resource and Relocation wars, the restructuring governments decided that humans were too unstable and violent to be trusted with total autonomy.  They created and implemented a system to prevent violence called The Mechanism.  By constantly observing every individual human’s behavior with a supercomputer, and using nanomachine control systems, The Mechanism effectively prevents crime or violence as it occurs.  It is capable of doing so anywhere that the planet wide wireless network can reach.  This somewhat Orwellian system is functional but has its detractors, both within and without.  The UAN dislikes The Mechanism’s reliance on machines as moral arbiters.  Backed by the powerful Panspermian Initiative, a quasi-religion that believes that we have a biological imperative to spread the life forms of Earth among the stars, the UAN opposes unmanned space exploration and automated resource mining.

Both of these powers have vested interests in Akinya Space and whatever project Eunice was working on before she died.  Geoffrey and Sunday push forward with their quest, while both sides meddle with the siblings as they travel from the Moon, to Earth, on to Mars and beyond.  The machinations of the opposing superpowers sketch out the shape of the later novels in the series, pitting the utilitarian surface dwellers versus the Darwinian aquatics for control of space itself.

But for all of the ‘big picture’ ideas, the story of the Akinyas’ quest feels lackluster.  Without the interference of the Pansperimans, it would be almost unbearably dull.  The big reveal moments, Geoffrey’s Mandala and Sunday’s discovery of the artilect, only make sense in the context of the bigger conflict.  The ending is particularly jarring because it places the final piece of the puzzle, and the key to the future of the setting, back in the hands of the two siblings that have neither the ambition nor the desire to use it.  The epilogue, written in the odd joint perspective of the remaining Akinya family members, sheds some light on this discrepancy, but feels like a dismissal of the actual end of the story, imbuing the protagonists with desires and qualities they didn’t possess.

But there’s so much more to recommend Blue Remember Earth than there is to criticize.  Reynolds’ use of Africa as the world power of the future is timely, given the economic growth of both Nigeria and the East African Community.  While the Akinya family more closely resembles European aristocrats, the use of a Kenyan protagonist and his interest in elephant populations and psychology is interesting and different, if wildly off-topic.  Elsewhere, the descriptions of the Descrutinized Zone, a bohemian commune on the Moon that is beyond the reach of The Mechanism, act as a strong counterpoint to the controlled ‘utopia’ of the rest of human civilization.  Reynolds ideas are by far his strong suit; nevertheless, the character of Eunice is incredibly intriguing if only because she is composed almost entirely of ideas and the memories of her children.

Given that Reynolds’ typically builds his stories on the cosmic timescale, it may not matter that I didn’t like Geoffrey and Sunday.  It is entirely possible that they will be long dead at the start of the next book.  It’s more likely that they will be alive but functionally unrecognizable, amalgamated into a digital personality or some other form of transhuman life.  Either way, I think their story is finished and that’s for the best.  The bigger story that Reynolds has started here has a lot of promise and it doesn’t need these characters hold it back.  I am eagerly awaiting the next installment in the series.

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Posted on May 21, 2013, in Cannonball Reviews and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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