The Six Directions of Space - Alastair Reynolds ADDENDUM (7/20) - I realized last night, after writing this review, that I probably should have mentioned that there are two scenes of animal and human abuse (aka "torture") that might disturb/distress some readers. Happily, Reynolds doesn't dwell on either scene. The human torture scene isn't gratuitous and makes sense in the context of the story; I'm not so sure about the animal torture scene. Seems Reynolds might have been gilding the lily in establishing the "bad guy's" bona fides.

In keeping with my East Asian-themed reading schedule lately, I was pleasantly surprised to find this novella on my library's New Books shelf (doubly surprised considering the financial...ummm...difficulties California is suffering at the moment of writing this but I guess it's "already budgeted" funds).

At any rate, the story begins in an alternate universe where the Mongol Empire never fell, conquering the entire planet and eventually creating a star-spanning empire using technology from a long-extinct alien race that appears to give access to wormholes (Reynolds doesn't develop the background much but considering this is an 85-page story that's not surprising and doesn't distract from the reader's immediate enjoyment). The main character, Yellow Dog, is an agent sent by the Great Khan to investigate strange phenomena that've been occurring on the fringes of the Mongol Expansion - disappearing ships, alien ships seen the wormhole pathways - the usual "stuff" in stories of this type. Eventually she discovers that "the Infrastructure" is breaking down, allowing alternate realities to enter hers (including one where an Islamic Caliphate conquers the world, one where lemurs became the dominant intelligent life, another where million-year-old xenophobic aliens known as the Smiling Ones rule, and our own world).

Reflecting on the story, there are aspects that bothered me. For example, I can't quite buy the oversimplification of history. For anyone with a passing knowledge of the subject, it's inconceivable that a Mongol Empire could have survived as a single entity from the 13th century (much less an Islamic Caliphate). Nor did I buy the conceit that Mongol science managed to equal our own without the concept of "zero." Reynolds makes much of this, I suppose to further differentiate our world from Yellow Dog's, but it's another idea that doesn't hold up well.

But I think I'm overanalyzing...For the hour or so I spent in Yellow Dog's universe(s), I enjoyed myself.