House of Suns

April 29, 2008

House of Suns, by Alastair Reynolds


House of Suns, by Alastair Reynolds.


Sprawling, epic sci-fi set something like six million years into the future, House of Suns is, somewhat ironically, about the legacy of mistakes of the past. It follows the fortunes of a guild, or ‘Line’, of people known as shatterlings: clones of a single person created in the distant past whose sole raison d’être is to wander the infinity of known space watching human civilization rise, fall, diversify and mutate, and to meet every two hundred thousand years to share these experiences. Effectively godlike voyeurs, the shatterlings of the Gentian Line live by gathering the memories of their fellows, including every new technological and genetic advantage, functioning as a kind of benevolent hive-mind, loath to interfere in human development because they believe they are beyond that, but always intensely curious as to how everything is progressing.

Until someone — or something — starts killing off individual shatterlings…

This is a novel of many parts, and some of them are stunning: the incredibly surreal and conceptually stunning Vigilance, the form of interrogation called ‘sectioning’, the baroque and art deco Machine People, the various starcraft used, the ideas of trove collections and memory strands and the whole, epic, grandiose nature of the ideas behind the shatterling groups themselves. It is, however, quite sprawling, as I mentioned at the start, and occasionally in this sprawl of mad ideas, hard science and futuregasming a few things seem a little lost: what really did happen to Meninx, for example? Why, if we’re so far into the future, does so much of the technology used seem so recognisable? And it’s a little unfortunate that occasionally some of the bigger issues happen off-screen or are only alluded to (the predecessor Machine culture… and its predecessor as well).

Still, minor flaws which didn’t really spoil my enjoyment at all. Riveted from start to finish and wish it were longer. In some ways I’d class it as experimental Reynolds — him stretching his wings and moving away a little from what he’s been more comfortable with in the past — and for that I can easily forgive him the occasional aforementioned dissonance. I would rank it just behind his excellent The Prefect and the utterly wonderful Pushing Ice (which I rank most things behind, actually: it’s probably in my Top Ten favourite books, that one), but still recommend it hugely: it tries very hard and, in all the ways that matter, succeeds splendidly.



5 Responses to “House of Suns”

  1. Trudi Topham Says:

    Nice, concise. Fancy reviewing for Pantechnicon?

  2. sarcade Says:

    Thanks Trudi. And yes, I possibly could do the odd review (what would I need to do / commit to?), but I’m more about books and writing whereas most of the recent Pantechnicon content seems to be about films or TV series.



  3. Trudi Topham Says:

    That’s why I ask. We need more book reviews. Lots more book reviews. All you’d need to do is pop a review online as and when you have one available. Drop me an email and we can discuss it, if you like?

    Troo /at/ microwavesushi /dot/ com

  4. sarcade Says:

    No problems then. I can do a few here and there, although they’ll probably be cross-posted here.

    E-mail dropped 🙂

  5. Agency Says:

    Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Agency.

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