Chasm City

By Alastair Reynolds

Why I Chose This Book

Last year I read a book by Alastair Reynolds called Pushing Ice. I picked up that book because it was 1) a big fat paperback to take on a long car ride and 2) it was about a moon of Saturn, and I really, really like planets. The book had me at the proverbial hello, and when I found myself with a need to pick out another book in a hurry, I went to the same author.

Why I Chose Right Now to Review This Book

For a variety of reasons, there were more dishes in the sink than would fit in the dishwasher, so I’m sitting here waiting for the dishwasher cycle to finish so I can empty it and reload it. The upshot is that I’ve already rinsed the dishes waiting to go in, and I turned on the heat function, so the emptying and reloading should be a breeze.*

My Reason for Using So Many Subheaders

To avoid a tl;dr situation. You’re reading a blog; you’re a Cool Kid of the Internet. Go look it up.

Nutshell Review of the Book

Chasm City is an entertaining, fairly predictable novel with a cartoony villain that takes an oddly sunny turn at the very, very end. The critical praise blurb posted on the front calls it a “space opera,” and yep–no quarrel there. Plus I’d totally watch this book on TV. But it’s not as good as Pushing Ice.

Detailed Review of the Book, With Minor Spoilers

Chasm City was a book that took a while for me to warm up to. There was a lot to like in what I was reading, and the world that it created was fleshed out with lots of detail, but there were three different story lines–all equally engaging–that for some reason didn’t mesh together well at the beginning. It wasn’t a chore to read, exactly, but I was skeptical about the book for a while because of these different threads. And then I hit that part in the book where I knew exactly how the three threads were going to connect, and that made the book much more appealing even if the flaws in the book were consistent throughout. I’m not a fan of first-person, either, but because this book wasn’t trying to be meaningful or artistic and the main character wasn’t angsty or excessively introspective, it was easy to acclimate to and ignore.

Tanner Mirabel Present was the primary narrative, and I liked the universe he moved through and how he interacted with the people he met. I liked the Mendicants, I liked the Canopy, I liked Dominika and Zebra and Chanterelle and the Pig People, and because the setting was so detailed and because the mystery was doled out at a good pace, his was a story I hated to leave and was always happy to get back to. Fortunately, his story took up the largest part of the book.

Tanner Mirabel Present spent a lot of time flipping back to Tanner Mirabel Past, who was far less interesting–faithful bodyguard to a charismatic warlord type with a jungle compound, loving from afar the loyal wife to warlord, and a lot of guerrilla fighting in territory that was too much part Hyperion/part something Orson Scott Card for my liking. Cahuella, the warlord, was even a big game hunter with a secret museum. This narrative was dragged out and frankly sort of dull, and although it’s obvious at the end of the book why so much time was spent in this setting with these people, it was the weakest part of the story. Furthermore, Gitta, the beautiful, loving, and wise wife who had nothing to do but reassure the audience that Cahuella wasn’t totally a bad man, was in the story just to be killed just to give Tanner something to do, and that’s a trope that I’m tired of (and Gitta wasn’t even the only Disposable Woman in the book!). But that’s a rant for another time. Long story short: Tanner Mirabel Past got a lot of page-flipping from me. I really don’t think I missed anything important.

Storyline three was about Sky Hausmann, and it was very interesting for a very long while, before it decided to be cartoon villainy with a giant space maggot at the climax of the action. I’m not the kind of person that is uncomfortable with non-humanoid aliens, but a giant space maggot talking to a cartoon villain sort of undermines the drama. It was really good drama too–three generations of people had been born and died on a ship intent on colonizing another star system, carrying frozen passengers who hoped to help settle new worlds, only to find when they’d arrived that while they were spending 150 years traveling the technology on Earth advanced so far as to basically make their heroic, multigenerational effort quaintly charming but pointless. You could make a whole book about just this, except in the middle of this is cartoon villain and a giant maggot, and you get all giggly.** Add a psychotic space dolphin borg and a torture chamber, and you’re doing some page flipping through here, too.

And now it sounds like I’m down on the book, and I’m not–I really did like the parts of it I liked, and even the Sky Hausmann set-up captured my imagination if the character himself was too goofy to be believed. What I wish I’d known before starting is that Chasm City is the second book of four or five in Reynolds’s “Revelation Space” series. That I didn’t notice is a good sign–it’s a good standalone book–but research here and there tells me that the Melding Plague that has caused so many problems for the characters of this book was established in the first book, Revelation Space. That explains the presence of some scenes and some adventures about Dream Fuel in Chasm City, I suppose, and the sad, sad tale that Giant Space Maggot tells to Cartoon Villain probably has backstory in the events in Revelation Space, but eh. I’m not sure I’m going to seek it out. This universe was perfectly coherent, although I’m kinda annoyed that I read a book in a series without checking first to see if it was the first installment. I’m usually more careful. Of course, you can usually tell on the first page if you are missing something. I’m not going to be too hard on myself.

Currently Reading:

Jubilee by Margaret Walker

The Age of Zeus by James Lovegrove

Child of a Rainless Year by Jame Lindskold

*Uh-huh. Like I’m going to empty and reload a dishwasher at this hour.
**Tee hee! Giant space maggot!
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