Thousandth Night and Minla's Flowers - Alastair Reynolds This book harks back to the Ace Double Novels of the '50s and '60s, when two short books would be bound together, usually unrelated and often by different authors, though, in this case, both are from the pen of Alastair Reynolds.

Thousandth Night takes place in the same milieu as Reynolds' recent House of Suns (my review: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5225631.House_of_Suns), and introduces us to that book's main characters Purslane and Campion. (Going forward, I'm going to assume that readers are familiar with this universe but I don't think what follows will be too confusing for noninitiates.) The story doesn't connect much with anything in HoS beyond the characters. It takes place 4 million years before HoS, "only" 2 million after Abigail Gentian sent her 1,000 clones out into the galaxy. Purslane notices that one of her siblings has edited his "thread" - the downloaded memories the Gentian Line shares among themselves at their 200,000-year reunions - and she and Campion set out to investigate why. They uncover a plot by a clique of "advocates" from several Lines (including Gentian) to cover up the failure of a prior civilization to create a viable "galactic empire" (in a universe without "warp drive") by committing genocide. These "advocates" are dedicated to their own version of galactic empire - the secretive Great Work - and unwilling to contemplate failure; so much so they'll wipe out entire races and Lines to forestall opposition.

TH is a nice, self-contained little story that mostly worked. Some of the same problems I had with HoS crop up here - timescale and I would have preferred it told from Purslane's POV, who I think is the more interesting character - but Reynolds manages to avoid the deus ex machina trap he's prone to, and I like how he continues to wrestle with the development of galactic cultures limited by actual physics.

Minla's Flowers takes place in the universe of the Cohort/Huskers, introduced in his collection Zima Blue and using the same character, Merlin. In MF, Merlin's ship, Tyrant, is forced from the Waynet and must stop for repairs at a lost human colony that has only just regained an early 20th century level of technology. The colony is embroiled in a war between a coalition of surface-bound polities and an alliance of ground-dwellers and the people who live on floating, island-sized land masses. All things being equal, Merlin would have touched down, repaired his ship and moved on but he discovers that what damaged his ship will be responsible for the destruction of the planet's sun in 70 years. He decides to stay and try to help the colony survive the coming disaster.

Minla is the young daughter of a leader among the sky-dwellers with whom Merlin establishes a special relationship, and whose presence is the deciding factor for his staying. Merlin, however, spends much of the next 7 decades in hibernation, emerging every 20 years to see what progress is being made and to nudge the planet toward continued progress to interstellar ships. Minla grows up to become planetary dictator after atom bombing her enemies into submission (with technology Merlin's supplied or hinted at). The "flowers" of the title refer to alien flowers Merlin gives the young Minla; the bombs she drops on her enemies; and Merlin's final, deadly gift to the 70-year-old Minla at the end of the story.

This is another variation on the "Prime Directive" story - Is is right for a superior civilization to interfere with a more primitive one, even to save it? If right, how much interference is the right amount? (Atomic power was the only path to starships but it allowed Minla to slaughter millions with A-bombs.) And is survival at any price worth it?

There's a cop out - IMO - at the end where Merlin finds the means to save the colonists left behind by Minla but overall the story works, and there's no closure on Merlin's or Minla's moral dilemmas (a good thing).

The book, as a whole, is recommended by this humble servant. If you're a Reynolds fan and/or a SF fan, you'll enjoy it.