House of Suns – Alastair Reynolds (2008)
Reynolds again takes us into a complex cyber-gothic universe where memories and history are editable.
Abigail Gentian, child heiress of a cloning company, lives in a giant house on an asteroid with a black hole at its heart to give it gravity. It is a house which is being constantly rebuilt and redesigned, the reasons for which she does not discover until later.
As a young woman, she is inspired by Ludmilla Marcellin, the woman who saved the fortunes of the Gentian company by employing their cloning techniques. Ludmilla’s audacious plan was to clone herself 1000 times and the copies, or ‘shatterlings’, on a journey round the galaxy, to return in the far future and maybe recombine their experiences.
Abigail did the same, using the blueprints for Ludmilla’s ships.
Six million years later, some of Abigail’s shatterlings are on their way to one of their ‘reunions’. Eight hundred and eighty shatterlings remain of the original one thousand.
Purslane and Campion have been delayed due to the failure of trade negotiations with the Centaurs, thus they need to close a deal with someone else, and are guided to a posthuman intelligence dwelling in a gas-giant.
There they rescue an imprisoned machine person, Hesperus, and continue to the reunion. However, they are years late but suddenly receive an emergency call.
The Reunion has been attacked by ships using banned technology and nearly all of the shatterlings have been killed.
A few escape and have been given instructions to meet at a secret rendezvous. One of the shatterlings has managed to capture an attacker. It seems that the attack was somehow provoked by the shatterling Campion, and it is up to him to try and discover why. It somehow involves the galaxy Andromeda (which has somehow been shrouded and is now called the Absence), the Vigilance (a Dyson sphere of data storage devices inhabited by a race of peculiar, and huge, posthumans) and the Machine People.
It’s much lighter in tone than some of Reynolds’ other novels and lacks the depth of his ‘Revelation Space’ series, but is nonetheless a satisfying read.
It’s very heartening also to see an SF author not explaining or showing everything. Apart from the three members that we meet, there is not much we see of the culture of the Machine People. Additionally we get tantalising glimpses of other aspects of this universe which adds a certain verisimilitude to the proceedings.