House of Suns - Alastair Reynolds Rating: 2.8-3 stars

Six million years from now humanity has spread throughout the galaxy using slower-than-light (STL) ships. (One of the nice things about Reynolds’ SF is that he’s scrupulous about obeying physical laws – at least as they’re understood today.) At the dawn of this era, Abigail Gentian was among a group of wealthy families that had themselves cloned so that they could wander across space observing the rise and fall of human & alien civilizations. Abigail created 1,000 clones – ½ female, ½ male – and each “shatterling,” as they’re called, set off. Every 200,000 years (a “circuit”) the clones reunite to trade information and catch up with each other.

Two important points to mention: (1) The clones are not physically identical to Abigail so there are a wide variety of types, and (2) the shatterlings are not supposed to fraternize with each other outside of the reunions.

The chief protagonists and alternate narrators of the book, Purslane (fem) and Campion (male), have been flaunting the last point for at least a circuit and are expecting to face the music at the latest reunion. However, they are delayed several decades and arrive to find almost the entire Line has been wiped out in an ambush. The third protagonist, Hesperus, is a citizen of the Machine People’s empire - the Machine People are the only artificial intelligence in the Milky Way. Purslane and Campion rescued him from Ateshga, an unscrupulous merchant.

Hooking up with the ambush’s survivors, the story essentially becomes a whodunit as the shatterlings, with Hesperus’ aid, struggle to find out who/what is behind their destruction.

Overall, I think the novel is a success. It moved briskly, and I enjoyed reading it but it doesn’t compare to his Revelation Space stories, and I wouldn’t recommend a newbie start here with Reynolds.

Upon reflection, I had three chief complaints about the book:

Number one is that there really aren’t any interesting characters outside of Purslane, whose character is never sufficiently fleshed out though the potential is there. (Actually, the potential is “there” with any of the actors but not developed.)

Number two is that a lot of the wholly SF elements – cloning, STL travel, AI, etc. – are subordinated to the relatively mundane mystery plot, and the implications are unexplored. Substitute cars or planes for the starships and the story could have played out in New York state.

The third, and greatest flaw, IMO, is Reynolds’ reliance on two deus ex machina, one of which is Hesperus. I’m going to avoid spoiling the novel but it’s too convenient and seriously weakens the book.

That aside, I’d still recommend the novel for Reynolds fans – It’s a nice, fast, enjoyable read though I doubt it will remain with you for long.

PS – I have a copy available if anyone would like to swap.