House of Suns
by Alastair Reynolds
Cover Artist: Chris Moore
Review by Ernest Lilley
Ace Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780441017171
Date: 02 June 2009 List Price $26.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Clone a thousand copies of yourself, some male, some female, all immortal. Download all your experiences into them and turn them loose on the galaxy to see what they can see. Have a meetup every couple hundred thousand years to share galactic gossip, grievances, and memories. Hide yourself among the clones, and don't tell anyone which you are, even yourself, because it no longer matters. Stir well. Wait for something interesting to happen...
The Gentian line began some six million years before the story opens, or somewhere in the next millennium according to the reader's perspective. Like many stories in SF, its roots are in mankind's initial expansion into the greater universe, but also in the best SF tradition, there's a twist. Combining cloning, immortality, and personality duplication as the disruptive technologies that the story revolves around, the story really begins when Abagail Gentian clones herself and sends a thousand copies into the cosmos to see what they can see.
Two clever bits are thrown in to make things more interesting. First, the clones are made as either male or female. Second, Abagail herself goes out as one of them...and no one, not even she, knows which one. One expects that she would contend that it no longer matters, but events suggest that the author doesn't quite buy it.
The main characters in the story are Campion and Purslane, two of the remaining 800 odd Gentians, coming up on the 32nd once-every-200-thousand-year gathering, and they're late to to party. Again.
As usual, it's Campion's fault for dithering around, though considering that this particular family reunion takes place every two hundred thousand years, there'd be some leeway about what constitutes fashionably late. But there are rules, among them that shatterlings, as they're called, are not supposed to travel together, let along fall in love...but then Campion is just a rule-breaker by nature.
So they're off to find an upgrade to their ship's drives in the hopes of shaving off a few years, or decades, or maybe centuries, off their arrival. And Campion, being Campion, doesn't mind trading with dodgy characters. Which is how they wind up with a used spaceship merchant who's really more of a pirate and more interested in taking their ships from them than upgrading them. And also how they meet Hesperus, an emissary from the Machine People that fell into the trader's hands and has been held captive for quite some time. Which when you're dealing with immortals can be quite a while indeed.
All in all, they do arrive late to the gathering, but by doing so they are forewarned that their fellow Gentian were ambushed, set upon with terrible weapons, and pretty much wiped out. Sometimes it pays to be a bit late.
So, Campion, Purslane, their new and not completely without suspect friend Hersperus, and the ragged remnants of what remains of the Gentian line set off to lick their wounds, uncover the identity behind their killers, and decide what to do about it.
It's not surprising that Alistair Reynolds writes galactic scale space opera with a hard edge to it. PhDs in astronomy are still handy for getting the setting right. That he has such a deft hand at prose and plot are bonuses that we can be grateful for.
If you want terrific New Space Opera, you'll want to visit The House of Suns.