Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Alastair Reynolds' REVENGER

I had a few false starts with Revenger, I won't lie. I think it was mostly because my brain insisted on trying to turn it into a Revelation Space book, even though it patently is not. There were just enough similarities between the superficial character traits Reynolds gave to his red shirts and those of characters from his earlier books to make that a temptation, though. Any of the crew of Monetta's Mourn could fit right in on board the Nostalgia for Infinity, is what I'm saying.

But there are no Ultranauts in this universe; the setting is very much our own solar system (I think), although it is changed beyond recognition by thousands (millions?) of years of natural processes, alien invasion and re-engineering, decay and resettlement. Humanity lives on a system-sized version of the Glitter Band/Rust Belt; lots of space stations and somewhat terraformed asteroids and planetoids -- but, apparently, no planets like you and I know them. There have been at least 13 "occupations" and all of them were long ago. Valuable and bizarre and bizarrely useful relics of all of those occupations can be found inside chunks of rock surrounded by force fields that open up an somewhat predictable intervals. Some people make a living exploring these "baubles" and selling off what they find.

Among the weird Roadside Picnic-esque treasures to be found are alien bones and skulls, which, studded with implants, can be "read" by young people with certain neurological traits and used as a kind of system-wide radio communications system.

Enter our protagonist, Fura, a young woman who, along with her slightly older sister, is found to have the talent for reading these bones and thus has a chance to escape her privileged but kind of creepy life on one of those barely terraformed rocks by signing on to read the bones for a crew of bauble miners.

So, I mean, of course she does.

And then terrible things happen. Terrible, violent, pirate-y things. Some people aren't into doing all the work to get loot to sell; some would rather lie in wait for other people to do the work and then rob them. And some like to get all Reaver-y about it.

The rest is the story charts Fura's journey from helpless fugitive to cold-blooded embodiment of revenge. We get to explore a little more of the world she ran away from and see more of the creeps who wanted to keep her there, spend some time on a brand new but less ambitious ship that she and a fellow survivor decide is their best vehicle for vengeance, and see Fura's plan unfold. It's all by turns creepy, exciting, violent and might remind you more than a little bit of a Jack Womack novel. Don't want to cross this young lady, no, no.

So this is an Alastair Reynolds who is exploring something new. Absent his galaxy-spanning atmospherics, the story is very tightly character driven, with mixed results. We get to know Fura very well, but no one except her friend Prozor gets terribly well-developed -- but I, at least, didn't mind this a bit. The tight focus on Fura's teenaged single-mindedness felt like the right way to go. No distractions, no stupid romance plot, just Find My Sister and Make Those Bastards Pay.

Hey, the Count of Monte Cristo didn't develop a lot of characters beyond Dantes, did it?