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Century Rain
Alastair Reynolds
Gollancz, 506 pages

Century Rain
Alastair Reynolds
Alastair Reynolds was born in 1966 in Barry, South Wales. He spent his early years in Cornwall, moved back to Wales and on to university in Newcastle, doing Physics and Astronomy. Then it was on to a PhD in St Andrews, Scotland. In 1991, he moved to Holland, where he met his partner Josette, and worked as ESA Research Fellow before his post-doctoral work at Utrecht University.

Alastair Reynolds Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Century Rain
SF Site Review: Absolution Gap
SF Site Review: Turquoise Days
SF Site Review: Redemption Ark
SF Site Review: Revelation Space
SF Site Review: Chasm City
SF Site Review: Revelation Space

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

One of the most interesting points in some writers' careers is when they abandon the setting of their first successful works and try something new. Often enough there is pressure -- from publishers and readers alike -- to keep returning to the well of one's first success. And I don't doubt that, for the writer, there is a certain comfort factor in dealing with familiar material. Alastair Reynolds's first four novels (as well as many shorter works, including those in his only other book) were all set in a common future, and they met with some popular success, and critical praise (from me as well as others). But the setting was showing signs of being played out. So I for one was happy to see him set off in a different direction with Century Rain. And I was interested to see if his most salient talent -- a spectacular hard-SF imagination -- would still be evident. (To be sure, Reynolds has published a fair amount of fine short fiction in other universes than that of his first novels).

In Century Rain, I can say unreservedly that his spectacular hard-SF imagination is as evident as in his earlier books. That said, some of Reynolds's weaknesses remain: this book is as long as the earlier ones, and I rather think each of his novels would have been better at 3/4 the length or less. His prose is serviceable but not really elegant. His characters (with a couple of exceptions) are fairly stock. But that is -- well, not quibbling, but acknowledging weaknesses that are not fatal weaknesses. (Quibbling would be complaining that in Century Rain there is a character who claims to be from "Dakota" in 1959, and an actual American never even asks "What do you mean, North Dakota or South Dakota?". Hardly a serious problem, but it did annoy me throughout.) So -- acknowledging its weaknesses, I still enjoyed this novel, and I was often fascinated, by the end quite moved, and occasionally awed.

The story begins on two threads. One concerns Wendell Floyd, an American in Paris in 1959. But his Paris is rather altered: its technology lags our own 1959 just a bit, apparently because World War II never happened: the German advance on France stalled in the Ardennes, and Hitler was shortly later deposed. But the evils of fascism were not eliminated, and France in 1959 seems ready to come under the sway of a nasty nativist politician. Floyd is a sometime jazz musician who mainly works as a private detective, and he is drawn into investigating the mysterious death of an American woman, a death the police seem only too quick to write off as an accident or suicide.

Meanwhile, three centuries in the future -- our actual future, it seems -- Verity Auger is an expert on Paris in the "Void Century": the 21st Century. It seems that late in this century something called the Nanocaust wiped out life on Earth. Humans survived in orbit, and have split into two groups: the Threshers (including Verity) oppose almost all nanotech and bodily modification, while the Slashers embrace it. The two are close to fighting a war over possession of Earth. Then Verity is maneuvered into accepting a strange assignment: wormhole travel back to Paris in 1959. It seems another Thresher agent has just been murdered, and Verity must try to recover some valuable information she had gathered.

Obviously, the Earth to which Verity is traveling is Wendell Floyd's Earth, and the murdered Thresher agent is the woman whose death Floyd is investigating. Wendell and Verity cross paths, and sparks fly, as we might (being experienced readers) expect. Their romance is a bit underplayed, and not quite convincing. But they also uncover a series of mysteries, involving the Thresher/Slasher war, factions among the Slashers, and some really bad guys, including some nasty apparent children. And they learn the true nature of Floyd's alternate Earth (which reminded me oddly of Robert Charles Wilson's Spin). The resolution of these SFnal ideas is pretty cool for the most part. The driving motivations of the bad guys, however, are never quite real -- they are just a bit too genocidal for no terribly good reason. But the story does come to a satisfyingly exciting close, and Floyd and Auger's personal story is well resolved as well. It's a good book, not a great one, but certainly it serves notice that Reynolds remains a writer to watch.

Copyright © 2006 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at

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