Visions of Paradise

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Century Rain

In the first hundred pages of Alastair Reynolds’ Century Rain, we are given three mysteries. Alternating chapters of the novel are set in late 1950s Paris where a right-wing government is slowly tightening the clamps on the population. The two main characters are Floyd and Custine, would-be swing musicians who moonlight as private detectives, and who are not making much of a living doing either. They are contacted by an old man who is landlord of an apartment building, and had gotten very friendly with a young tenant named Susan White who died by falling from her 5th floor balcony to the ground. The police considered her death a suicide and refused to investigate it. But the landlord, obviously smitten by the girl, is positive she was too fearful of heights to either jump off the balcony or risk falling off it, so he pays the two detectives to learn who murdered her.

The other alternating chapters are set in a future in which Earth is totally uninhabitable, and its former inhabitants live in orbiting cities. Verity is an archaeologist who takes risky visits to the planet to find relics from when the planet was still inhabited. Her speciality is Paris, France. When one of her young assistants dies accidentally during one of her field trips, she is blamed for negligence and given the choice of facing a tribunal or undertaking a dangerous mission which she is not given very much information about. All she learns initially is that the mission is an important tool in preventing a group known as Slashers from terraforming Earth. Apparently the Slashers have two different political groups, one willing to negotiate for the sake of terraforming Earth, while the others intend to invade it.

The third mystery involves the connection between the two scenarios. In the future, Susan White is a scientist who has already undertaken the mission that Verity is assigned, and somehow died doing it. And Verity’s boss has the same name as one of the characters in 1950s Paris. Obviously, they are connected somehow, which is one of the threads which Reynolds dangles before the reader.

Shortly afterwards, the two strands merge into one, and the mysteries become a single intriguing mystery. As usual, Reynolds’ plot combines the mystery with fast-paced action and several human interest stories revolving around Floyd and Verity. There are several types of villains in Century Rain as well, and one group are certainly the creepiest villains I can ever recall encountering in a science fiction book. Horror writers should take note that, as is so often true, less can sometimes be much more effective than overdoing the horror.

In the half-dozen Alastair Reynolds novels I have read, he has shown an ability to traveling across the spectrum of science fiction sub-genres, having done space opera in the Revelation Space series, police procedural in The Prefect, now noir mystery interwoven into a strong sf tale. But the common bonds are strong storytelling, fascinating premises, and good characters worth investing time in. Century Rain is such a story which I recommend highly.

1 Comments:

  • I have not read much about this Reynolds book. It's good to know that he is as good in the one shot books as he is in the Revelation Space series. I will add this to my reading stack.

    By Blogger Jim, At 7:30 PM  

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