City by Alastair Reynolds
Hardcover - 524 pages (17 May, 2001) Victor Gollancz Science Fiction; ISBN: 0575068779
Review by John Berlyne
Check out this book at: Amazon US / Amazon UK
I'm reluctant to give too much away about Chasm City, the new novel from British writer Alastair Reynolds, so below is my basic reaction to the book. After you've read the next paragraph, you can read on to find out a little more if you're curious but if you take me at my word, go right, buy the book and read that instead of reading any further into my review, I honestly won't be insulted. (editor's note: Brits may be given to understatement.)
Chasm City is bloody brilliant and Alastair Reynolds is a genius! Read this book as soon as you can and tell everyone you ever met to do the same!!!!
Now, having got that off my chest I will now attempt to explain myself. I've been careful to stick to what you might read on the back of the jacket and thus not give away any spoilers, but this book is so darn good it's hard not to rave about every aspect of it!
Reynolds made a hugely important contribution to the hard SF genre with his debut novel Revelation Space. Acclaimed as "completely brilliant" almost across the board (go check out the reader's comments on Amazon.co.uk), it is no surprise to see Revelation Space on the nomination lists of the two major British SF awards and I am confident it will feature in some of the US ones too. To give you further insight into the quality and success of this first Reynolds book, it is worth noting that the first edition hard cover - published only last year by Gollancz priced at £17.99 - now changes hands at around around£100.00!!!
So, what is he doing right? Hard to say! But whatever it is, it is producing fantastic novels that shouldn't be missed. Reynolds is a writer who looks like he'll get better and better with each novel. Revelation Space was superb, Chasm City is fantastically superb ... it looks like reviewers will run out of superlatives long before Reynolds runs out of steam.
Chasm City is a big book - both in size and conception. Big ideas are painted with big strokes on a big canvass. Harder and grittier than Revelation Space, Chasm City is nevertheless set in the same story universe but don't go expecting a repeat performance. Reynolds is far cleverer than that and this is a whole new ball game.
Tanner Mirabel is on a personal crusade. As a hired security specialist, his job was to protect - and he failed. Now he's on the trail of Argent Reivich, the man responsible for exposing his shortcomings and this chase takes him across light-years of space to Chasm City. No longer the enlightened technological paragon of it's heyday, Chasm City is now a place of shadows, ravaged by a nanotech plague that has warped both city and inhabitants into a phantasmagorical nightmare. In not-so-hot pursuit (his journey is delayed by years of cold-sleep), Tanner enters this metropolis and finds it full of dangers for the unwary masked by the city's glorious mutated beauty.
Reynolds gives his city a wonderfully gothic feel - up in The Canopy zeppelins and cable cars criss-cross the skyline, gouts of steam erupt from vents and decadent monocled aristocrats rule the roost. Unaffected by the plague and all but immortal by virtue of technology, these bored upper-class grandees seek to relieve their boredom by indulging in high risk, high thrill activities and certain bloodsports in which Tanner unwittingly finds himself the fox. Down below in The Mulch, there exists an underclass society akin to something you might find in Gibson or Blade Runner and we follow Tanner as he flits from level to level of the city in his search for Reivich.
The pace never lets up in Chasm City - I'm talking here of both place and novel. Reynolds sends the excitement quotient off the scale in every chapter. Long after finishing the book I marvel at the author's inventiveness and skill. Throughout this artfully plotted work, Reynolds continually conjures up exotic new characters, hidden places and tense situations. There are startling revelations, parallel story arcs and many examples of breathtaking description and deep insight. One in which Tanner describes the horrendous generations-long war on his home planet struck me particularly. He talks of the "strange and dark allure of war" and of soldiers he's known who "boasted of sexual arousal after killing an enemy; addicted to the erotic potency of what they had done." This chilling and seductive justification for the committing of atrocious acts seems the very essence of Chasm City.
Another key theme in this work is that of deception. In Chasm City, the "truth" is a subjective concept and characters hide it - sometimes on purpose but often in spite of themselves. Reynolds continually wrong-foots his reader with an audacity I have rarely seen from a novelist and boy does he get away with it! Characters display divided loyalties and swap sides with an ease that is often amusing and always a surprise but never arbitrary and the net effect of this is Reynolds produces a Dickian paranoia in both characters and readers. As such Chasm City is an active experience for the reader - exciting, unforgettable and - in the opinion of this reviewer - a masterpiece. Needless to say - highly recommended.