Book Review: Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds

It’s been a while since I’ve read any new science fiction, meaning anything written in the last twenty years. Usually I just stick with Neal Stephenson, with occasional flirtations with folks like William Gibson and Orson Scott Card. Most of the time though, I stick with the old timers: Bradbury, Asimov, Heinlein, those guys. They’ve got brand name recognition. Delving into science fiction unguided leads to reading stuff, like Island of Fear.

So Chasm City was an unknown for me; I had no expectations about quality. Luckily it turned out to be extremely well-written.

The science fiction that resonates best with me is the kind that uses these fictional worlds to examine humanity. It’s not the tech or the aliens or the newest pop science ideas crammed rudely into the plot: it’s how the author imagines people responding in these strange new worlds.

For Mr. Reynolds, people act, more or less, as they always have. It doesn’t matter that (for the very rich anyway) immortality is a distinct possibility. It doesn’t matter that near-light speed travel is a real thing or that nanotech is commonplace. People are still people and the technology has little to do with it. His cast of characters would fit into any time period, in spite of their genetic modifications or extra long lifespans.

They’re a wide collection of ne’er-do-wells, heartless bastards, desperate poor, cynical optimists and bored aristocrats. Reynold’s future is not exactly hopeful but nor is it apocalyptic. Humanity is surviving, as it always has. The only thing that has changed is the location.

Chasm City also spends a fair amount of time talking about memory and its effect on personality. What truly makes up a person? Are they just the accumulation of their memories or are they more than that? It’s a topic that authors like, say, Philip K. Dick have talked about at length. But Reynolds put together an even more intricate scenario than even Dick, a plot strand that’s almost hard to track at times, which is fine by me.

Everyone has something to hide and everyone has secrets, the main character having the most to hide, even from himself. Figuring out the main character’s past and not quite knowing the main character’s past was done so well and added so much to the general theme of the book, that it didn’t strike me till just now how big of a cliche it is to have a mysterious past.

I’ll be going back to the rest of the series at some point, I think. Mr. Reynolds has shown me that the genre still has more to offer.

Dylan Charles

One thought on “Book Review: Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds

  1. I’ve been wondering, if a formative memory is blanked from your brain, does it leave a hole? Will you realize it’s missing? Will all the other memories around it fall like a house of cards?

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