My immediate reaction upon finishing Alastair Reynolds‘ book Chasm City was “what a ride”. Even now I’m still absorbing the myriad plot lines that were expertly woven through the book that shouldn’t have worked together, but somehow did.
Book Review Two: Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds
Suffering from the after effects of being in a cryogenic sleep for the past thirty years, Tanner begins a trip down to the surface of Yellowstone and the only livable city there: Chasm City.
But a plague had struck the city not long ago, leaving those with nano-technology in them racing to have it removed before it took on lives of their own or was destroyed, and the buildings that had once grown only to accommodate new tenants grew wild and created their own tree-like structures. The rich live in the Canopy, while the lower dregs of society are found in the Mulch. Those in the Canopy had once been immortal with their nano-technology implants, but now found themselves searching for a new cure for death.
The answer, a near drug called Dream Fuel, causes Tanner to find himself woven into a spiraling web as he searches for Reivich in the city. In a stunning turn of events, he abandons his death quest to go after the source of this drug, both to help someone to whom he owes another debt, but to also unlock questions about his own past.
Because when taken, Dream Fuel unlocks memories for Tanner that he didn’t know existed.
By the time Tanner has finally tracked Reivich to a ship in orbit, he has come to some startling revelations about himself that even he was unaware of.
Woven into this story is the tale of Sky Haussmann, a member of the Flotilla of Generation Ships that left Earth centuries ago enroute for a new home by a star nicknamed Swan. We witness his descent into madness and are silent observers as he becomes consumed with getting his ship, the Santiago to the planet first. What follows is an increasingly horrible series of events that made even me wonder just why I was still cheering for this man to succeed and have his ship land first on a planet that would later be renamed Sky’s End.
Finally, there is the tale of Tanner and his boss, Cahuella, and the attack by Reivich’s men that began this whole affair. Told through flashbacks, there begin to be startling revelations towards the end that hints that Tanner might not be who he thought he was.
When all these plot lines converge in the last one hundred or so pages of the novel, it was all I could do to put down the book in order to do things like eat and sleep.
There were a few aspects that seemed to come from out of left field, such as giant space-faring maggot/flies running from Machines that ate them. Generally though, the world, for being Sci-Fi and taking place far from any reality we know, is completely believable. Even the Canopy, a place where genetic mutation and enhancement is a common-place for the inhabitants, is a place that I could see existing.
About halfway through the Haussmann story, it was relatively clear to see just where Reynolds was going with the story, but the revelation of Tanner’s true identity was kept a closely guarded secret until the very climax of the story and reveled in such a way that it didn’t feel contrived or weak.
Being true “hard Sci-fi”, it was easy enough to suspend disbelief while reading this that the world created made sense. While not a sequel to Revelations Space, I have been told that this is more of a fleshing out of the universe created in it, so it heightens the experience more if you read that first. I did not though, so I can not say for sure one way or another.
Alastair Reynolds’ book gets a definite 5 out of 5 and I will be making room on my shelves for more of his books, I feel.
Read it for yourself here
Cover picture from: http://img1.fantasticfiction.co.uk/images/n4/n24739.jpg