Century Rain

Posted: October 14, 2019 in Book reviews, Regarding writing
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by Alastair Reynolds

4c770b1828bf0238c48e0dc428755aec-w204@1x300 years in the future Earth has been rendered uninhabitable by a catastrophe known as the Nanocaust.  Verity Auger is an archaeologist whose specialty is retrieving historical items from the ruins, and she has a particular interest in Paris. After a disaster during one trip to the ruined Paris she’s offered a way to redeem herself, a once in a lifetime chance to visit a place that shouldn’t exist.

In 1959 Wendall Floyd is an American jazz musician and detective in Paris who’s been hired by the landlord of a young woman, Susan White, who died in mysterious circumstances. The police think it was an accident, the landlord believes it might be murder, and hires Floyd to get at the truth. There are few clues, but one thing Susan left behind was a bundle of documents to be passed to her sister.

Her sister’s name; Verity Auger!

There’s so much going on in this novel that at times it’s intoxicating, and much as I love Reynolds’ work, this might be my favourite of his books I’ve read so far. It takes a certain level of confidence to set a novel 300 years in the future, and simultaneously in a version of 1959. Nanotechnology, wormholes, alternate timelines, jazz, noir, space opera and one of the most original takes on time travel I’ve seen make this a treat for the senses.

The characters are great, from Floyd, the world weary gumshoe in the style of Bogart, to Auger, the restless archaeologist whose obsession with the ruined earth means more to her than her children, and various characters in both streams of the story feel alive, be it the likes of Custine and Greta in 1959, or Cassandra, the enhanced human from Auger’s world. It’s like Reynolds decided he wanted to write a space opera, but he’d also just seen Casablanca (and there are quite a few nods to Casablanca in here) and decided he wanted to write a noirish detective story as well. Rather than do one after the other he obviously decided to combine the two, with wonderful results.

As always Reynolds’ writing is superb. If the book has a flaw it’s in the length, there are huge sections—in particular a wormhole trip late on—that could have been trimmed, but he’s such a good writer I almost didn’t care. There are some elements he brings to the table too late—be warned, it’ll be 300+ pages before you find out the difference between the Threshers and the Slashers—but again this didn’t spoil my enjoyment.

Reynolds even manages to squeeze some horror in, with some truly terrifying bioweapons who look like children, until you see them close-up!

Dazzlingly original, exceptionally well written, fun, romantic and exciting I can’t recommend this highly enough, probably the most I’ve enjoyed the book for a couple of years. The only downer is that he’s said he has no plans for a sequel, which is a shame as I need more of Floyd and Auger!

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