Slow Bullets

Posted: July 29, 2022 in Book reviews, science fiction

By Alastair Reynolds

It is the far future and a huge conflict encompassing hundreds of worlds is coming to an end. Scur is a conscripted soldier fighting for one of the factions. She is relieved that war is ending, but then she’s captured by Orvin, a vicious renegade fighting for the other side who intends for her a slow, painful death.

She escapes this fate and wakes up aboard an unfamiliar ship, lightyears from any recognisable world. It soon becomes clear that the ship is filled with war criminals from both sides of the conflict, plus a large number of civilians. It also soon becomes clear that something has gone very wrong with this ship, and the worlds they left behind may no longer exist. In the midst of this chaos Scur then discovers that she knows one of the other passengers It’s Orvin. Can she overcome her desire for revenge when an uncertain future faces the mismatched crew of this ship?

As anyone who’s a regular reader of my blog will know, I’m a huge fan of Reynolds, and when I earned from free money via my Waterstones’ card, I decided to spend it on Slow Bullets, because the price had always put me off given it’s only a novella.

Whilst I’m not sorry I bought this, and it is an interesting read, it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t put this in the upper tier of Reynolds’ work. Lacking the punchiness of a short story, and the room to breathe that a full novel would have provided, Slow Bullets falls between two stools. At times it feels too long, but mostly it feels way too short.

There’s an interesting premise here and I think Reynolds should have either written it as a short story, or gone all in and made it a novel, which would have allowed him to expand on a lot of elements and flesh out the characters, most of whom, including Orvin, are quite two dimensional. Scur is interesting, as is her friend Prad, one of the ship’s original crew, but even so it would have been interesting to find out more about both of them.

The concept of the Slow Bullets themselves is intriguing (they’re not remotely what you might think) and like I said there the basis of a great novel here about survival against the odds and about the possibility of rebooting civilisation, and I did enjoy it, it just left me wanting a lot more. That being said, as a gateway into Reynold’s work this might make for a good start.

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