Monday, April 5, 2010

Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days - Alastair Reynolds

I read Revelation Space, the first novel in what has become known as the Revelation Space universe in June 2008 and have been steadily working my way through Reynold's work since. The author had me hooked. Last week I read the last two novellas in this setting that were still on the to read list. These multi-volume projects take me a while but I get there eventually. This is most likely not the end of the journey. There is one more story in this setting I haven't read, it has not been included in one of Reynolds' collections yet, and there are plans for more Revelation Space stories. For now it looks like his current project, a trilogy that will cover humanity's development over the next eleven thousand years, will keep him busy for a while yet. Time to check out some of Reynolds' other works.

Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days contains two novella length pieces of which you will have guessed the titles by now. The two are set in the same universe but otherwise not connected. There is one minor reference to Diamond Dogs in Turquoise Days but they can be read independently and without any knowledge of the novels. Diamond Dogs, the first of the two was originally published in 2001, the year Reynold's second Revelation Space novel Chasm City was released. Turquoise days was first published a year later.

I thought Diamond Dogs the stronger of the two novellas. It had me captivated from the opening line.
I met Childe in the monument to the Eighty.
At first glance not a remarkable bit of prose. It does contain two clues to the rest of the story though. Childe is a reference to the epic poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came by Robert Browning, one of the few pieces of English Romantic poetry I have read and only because it was published in the back of the last book of Stephen King's Dark Tower series. The second is a reference to one of the experiments in digitalizing human consciousness that has gone horribly wrong. So do we get a gunslinger in space then? No, not exactly. We do get a tower and a fair bit of obsessive behaviour though.

Richard Swift is contacted by a former friend he thought long dead. Childe has recently reappeared in the system and is quietly rounding up a group of people with very specific talents to study an alien artefact on a remote planet. The tower is clearly artificial, perhaps even alive and it offers access to the higher levels only if the person entering it first solves a riddle. These puzzles get progressively harder and the punishment for failure gets progressively more severe. The surroundings of the tower are strewn whit the bodies of those who failed. Yet the challenge is undeniable. Childe will get to the top, whatever it takes.

So how far will you go to reach the top of the tower? Technology in the 25th century offers plenty in the way of useful expansions of the human mind and body and it seems Childe's desire to reach the top knows no boundaries. Diamond Dogs is a pretty dark story, science fiction/horror hybrid. I very much enjoyed to way the author deals with the theme of obsession in this story. It's one of the best pieces of short fiction by Reynolds I have read.

Turquoise Days is quite a different story. It is set on Turquoise, a Pattern Juggler world. The planet is mostly covered by a vast ocean containing an alien marine micro-organism that stores and rearranges data. It can record a whole mind of people who swim in the ocean but whether or not they actually are self-conscious or intelligent is a matter of fierce scientific debate. One evening in 2541 a young scientific by the name of Naqi finds out that a Lighthugger is approaching their normally isolated system. She does not know if the two events are related but the Pattern Jugglers seem to respond to this imminent arrival. It's the opportunity of a life-time. Her sister and colleague insists they take a swim and find out what is going on, even if they are not qualified to do so. Naqi's sister drowns, an event proving to be a turning point in her scientific career.

The Pattern Jugglers are mentioned a number of times in the series but in the novels there is rarely reason to look at them as closely as Reynolds does in Turquoise Days. There are a number of other instances where Reynolds uses his short fiction to explore events of factions referenced in the novels. I must admit that it took a while for this novella to grow on me but once the Ultras arrive the story gets going. Although it has a very exciting finale, this novella did not quite touch me as much as Diamond Dogs did. Maybe the relatively long description of the final days of Naqi's sister unbalanced the story just a bit. It is still a very good story but it suffers slightly from being compared to the excellent Diamond Dogs I guess.

Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days offers two great novellas that can be read as a fine example of short form science fiction or as pieces that deepen the reader's understanding of the Revelation Space universe. However you choose to look that them, these novellas are very much worth reading. I think I liked this volume even better than Galactic North, which collects most of the remaining Revelation Space short fiction. If I haven't convinced you to try Reynolds by now you're hopeless. Go read some!

Book Details
Title: Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days
Author: Alastair Reynolds
Publisher: Gollancz
Pages: 231
Year: 2003
Language: English
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-575-07516-0
First published: 2003

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