Six millions years previously, Abigail Gentian, scion of an influential and rich family, made one thousand clones of herself and infused each one with her personality and memories. Since then “Gentian Line” has travelled the Milky Way at sublight speeds, exploring, experiencing and helping civilisations. Every two hundred thousand years, the “shatterlings” of Gentian Line come together in a grand reunion, to share experiences and memories, and to remember their lost.
Purslane and Campion are two shatterlings who, despite strong taboos against it, have fallen in love and travel together. They are thousands of years late for the coming reunion. Once they arrive, they find that the Line has been attacked for unknown reasons, and decimated.
The premise is interesting, tackling the tricky concept of deep time and societal survival. Is it possible for a planet-bound civilisation, or even an interstellar empire, to sustain its own existence beyond a few tens of thousands of years? And what of consciousness, machine or biological. How can these handle intervals of millions of years, even if many are spent in suspended animation?
Unfortunately, too much of the story depends on reactions to events that happened previously, which are revealed piecemeal in massive and awkward infodumps. The plot will grind to a halt as a character expounds for pages and pages on events of five millions years ago and how they explain the events of last year in perceived time (which perhaps actually happened fifty thousand years ago in actual time). The love story of Purslane and Campion is sweet and tragic and compelling, and that would have made a lovely book. However, the whole edifice is heavily weighed down by having to explain and analyse the effects of deep time and ancient history, making it an ungainly slog only rescued by Mr. Reynolds’s superb prose and flair for illustrating the immense. Ironically, the final chapters are absolutely beautiful and would have been an amazing coda to a less ponderous narrative.
The second book in the series picks up directly where book one left off. Chip and Fitz are unfairly accused, Virginia is drugged and hidden. The Korozhet are known by our heroes to be the enemy, but they hold all the cards.
The first half of this book, while necessary, is not really that much fun and humor. And that is a problem. Without fun, this series is too absurd to be really good. Thankfully, the second half more than makes up for it. A good read assuming you’ve read the first book.
On the colony planet of Harmony and Reason, the colony’s shareholders are an entitled and elitist upper class, while the rest of the population is poor and indebted. Most of the lower class is made up of “Vats”, vat-grown humans based on genetic material brought from Earth. To make matters worse, insectoid/arachnid aliens have invaded, and the incompetent shareholder military leadership is doing poorly. With the aid of alien technology, the humans “uplift” rats and bats to help fight the war. The bats are flying sappers with Irish accents and strong political views. The rats are nymphomaniac drunks acting as infantry. The action centers on a group of grunts who find themselves stuck behind enemy lines.
Despite the completely absurd premise, or perhaps because of it, this was quite a fun book. It is written with tongue firmly in cheek and humor firmly in the gutter. I enjoyed the misadventures of this one particular group of misfits, replete with constant inter-species sniping and a bitterly resigned attitude towards the idiocy of the brass.
John Varley’s first novel, and also the first one in the Eight Worlds Universe, has an interesting and intricate, premise. Four hundred years previously, enigmatic aliens invaded the Earth, and most of humanity died off. Humans now live scattered around the solar system, dependent at least in part on technological know-how beamed from faraway Ophiuchi. No one knows who or what is beaming the data, except that it is finely attuned to the needs of humans. Lilo, a genetic engineer condemned to death for taking her reasearch into unethical directions, is embroiled in a plot to retake the Earth for humanity. Her multiple journeys throughout the Solar System are mirrored by journeys of discovery into her own humanity. As multiple clones are branched off, Varley explores how Lilo’s personality differs given her environment, and yet retains its basic values.
This one is clearly written during the seventies, as there is a lot of nudism and casual sex.
The book seems to beg the question: “What’s the point of retaking the Earth when life is an eden out here?” The ending does take the clear stance that we have to proactively defend our existence, and not take our survival as a spieces for granted. I very much enjoyed this book, which packs a lot of story into a mere 170 pages.