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Pushing Ice
Alastair Reynolds
Gollancz, 458 pages

Pushing Ice
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: Pushing Ice
SF Site Review: Century Rain
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

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Alastair Reynolds's novels are reliably fascinating at the "big idea" level. He's got a truly first rate hard-SF imagination, and the chops to take cool ideas and reveal them via action plots, often hiding the really neat ideas convincingly until the end. He is a "light speed limit" author, and fascinated with Deep Time. And all this describes Pushing Ice quite excellently.

The novel opens with a curious prologue set 18,000 years in the future, describing an ambitious plan to celebrate the legendary Benefactor who started humanity on the road toward expansion into the Galaxy. Then we get a flashback to 2057, and the story of this Benefactor, a woman named Bella Lind. Bella is the captain of an ice mining spaceship, the Rockhopper. This ship is diverted to chase a moon of Saturn, Janus, which has suddenly accelerated and headed out of the Solar System: clearly, it's an alien artifact of some sort. Bella, however, must convince her crew to go along: it's a highly dangerous mission, and their corporate bosses do not inspire confidence. One of Bella's key links to the crew is her close friend, engineer Svetlana Borghesian.

Svetlana originally supports Bella, but when she later discovers that they have less fuel than they thought, and that the corporation seems to have been hiding his fact, she begs for a turnaround, and turns against Bella when she refuses. This sets up the central human conflict of the story, between Bella and Svetlana, who oscillate as leaders of the expedition over time. And what about the expedition? Eventually they reach a point of no return, and they are forced to essentially colonize Janus, while trying to unlock its secrets. Janus is traveling towards a Structure around the star Spica, 260 light years distant, which means a long journey is ahead of them. And in the end this journey turns out to be unimaginably longer than they can ever have expected.

Pushing Ice gives us a dramatic, though not to my mind entirely convincing, human story of the conflict between the two women and their factions. Both have some reason for their actions, but both also do terrible things, commit tremendous betrayals. At the same time we are given a tense story of survival in an alien environment, which I found interesting but again not quite convincing. And finally we have a story about contact and communication with aliens, embroilment in inscrutable alien politics, and at the end, a story of confronting truly Deep Time, the very far future. This, to me, works best of all: the payoff here is very effective, mysterious and awe-inspiring.

I've been known to suggest that Reynolds's novels are a bit too long, and this one is as long as his others, but I must say that I was gripped throughout. There's a lot going on: a lot of neat SFnal ideas, some "small" in the sense of being fairly near future technological speculation, and others "big" in the sense of dealing with the ultimate fate of intelligent races. It's not perfect: I've already quibbled about a couple of things, and I have to say that I could not quite believe in the main characters, even though I did manage to care for them. But it is, well... cool, and it pushes my SF reader buttons just right.

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 http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.


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