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08-04-14: Alastair Reynolds 'Blue Remembered Earth'

Diffident Utopia

The intimate and the infinite are closer than we might imagine. A single man, a single family, a single impulse can ripple to edge of our understanding and beyond. Geoffrey Akinya lives in a world we have some small hope of achieving. One hundred fiftyish years from now, we've managed to create a diffident utopia. War has been banished, humans live on the moon, on Mars and are pushing the boundaries of the solar system. Geoffrey feels perfectly fulfilled spending his time living in Africa, studying elephants.

His family, an intellectual powerhouse made insanely wealthy by the discoveries of his reclusive grandmother, Eunice, are not so happy with him, but they tolerate Geoffrey and his sister Sunday, an artist. A balance has been struck, until Eunice dies, and their worlds, both intimate and infinite, begin to unravel.

'Blue Remembered Earth' is not easily slotted, giving it a depth, power and approachability unusual for novels set in a carefully imagined future. Reynolds keeps his focus on the characters and family, settling them into a grounded future that bristles with ideas. Geoffrey and Sunday are a bit spoiled and self-centered as the novel begins, but Eunice's death sets up a series of revelations and confrontations that force them out of their safely confined lives.

Their world, indeed the world, can grow, but not without plenty of pain. Hector and Lucas, the two cousins who run the money side of the family, are not fond of Geoffrey and Sunday, whom they see as having abdicated their responsibility to live relatively frivolous lives. But pain plays no favorites, in this world or any world. Nothing falls apart alone.

'Blue Remembered Earth' is a masterpiece of post-dystopian fiction world building. You can take all your one-note futures and toss them in the dumpster. Reynolds is playing the long game here, and crafts an eerie, unsettling utopia. Humanity is just fine, thank you very much. All it takes is ubiquitous nanotechnology and an overseeing Mechanism. And this utopia is indeed peaceful, which is keenly required if you're going to leave it all behind. Aquatic civilizations, omnipresence and nascent solar civilization are all still dwarfed by interstellar distances.

Reynolds is smart enough to keep his background in the background, as Eunice's death quickly levers Geoffrey and Sunday out of their safe lives and into a planet-hopping pursuit for Eunice's legacy, with the help of Eunice herself, resurrected in bits as an artilect each sibling can bring along as a sort of personal Wikipedia. Reynolds keeps the tension and the stakes rising with an easy, page-turning expertise.

'Blue Remembered Earth' is the first novel of a trilogy, with the second novel, 'On the Steel Breeze,' just released, but it stands well on its own. That said, I can't imagine any reader not wanting to find out just how far Reynolds, known for his large-canvas work, is going to take the Akinyas. This large canvas, our large canvas, is made of tiny motes. Each life is intimate, even mundane. Add them up, and that's another matter. Infinity is achieved one small step at a time.



New to the Agony Column

08-08-14: Commentary : Alastair Reynolds 'Blue Remembered Earth' : Diffident Utopia

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