First off, ignore the generic space-adventure cover. Yes, this novel by astrophysicist Alastair Reynolds takes place (partly) in space, and yes, it is packed with adventure, but the illo conveys nothing of the immensity of the universe. The “sense of wonder,” not only of vast distances and cultural diversities but of time itself reminded me of Poul Anderson’s Tau Zero. Where Anderson focused on the “gee-whiz we’re approaching the speed of light” macguffin, Reynolds assumes an enormous space-time landscape and goes forth from there.
Typically, science fiction stories start with a premise: Imagine this or Imagine that. Reynolds takes the process a step farther. Imagine a future in which humanity has colonized space, created whole worlds and ways to communicate between them. Imagine biotechnology that produces virtual immortality, cloning and infinite variations on the human genome. Now imagine that a group of determined individuals clone themselves not once but a thousand times and then send those “shatterlings” in every direction, to explore across millions of light-years. These Lines provide continuity as civilizations rise and fall; they move and remodel whole planetary systems; they build “stardams” to contain supernovae; they circuit the galaxy for periodic reunions.
Now imagine that through this, shatterlings have retained their humanity, their capacity for love . . . and for revenge. Delicious!
Now imagine that a violent ambush awaits the members of one Line at their next reunion.
And you have mind-boggling technologies, a mystery, action-suspense, betrayals and revelations and, oh yes, a love story — a story of two people who have known each other for aeons and are still tender and passionate and honest with one another. The prose is strong, the characters clear, and the plot full of twists and surprises. Definitely worth re-reading.