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Alastair Reynolds
On the Steel Breeze
Ace / Penguin Putnam
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-425-25678-7
Publication Date: 06-03-2014
496 Pages; $26.95
Date Reviewed: 08-12-2014
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2014

Index:  Science Fiction  General Fiction  

Our lives are full of self-contradiction. We want adventure and we want security. We need our family but must have the world, or better, the universe. But having everything clearly has its problems as well.

In 'Blue Remembered Earth,' Alastair Reynolds gave his characters pretty much everything. The people of our earth made it past the troubled next dew decades, emerging, with the help of technology. into a sort of utopian state. The talented but troubled Akinya family helped blaze the way, but the generation that made the most difference fumbled when it came to passing the torch. The finale of that novel ushered in a new level of everything.

The children of those who had barely achieved adulthood in 'Blue Remembered Earth' still have it all, and more. Chiku Akinya, the daughter of Sunday Akinya, has fallen pretty far financially from the heights achieved by her ancestors, but she still has enough to have it all. In a brilliantly written bit of gene-splicing, Reynolds, with a twist of the literary skills required for great 21st century fiction, turns his heroine into three versions of herself. One will stay behind and lead a life of safety and relative contemplation on Earth, one will journey to a nearby inhabitable planet on a single-generation starship, and one will seek adventure in solitude trying to solve a family mystery. And all three will watch their worlds crumble.

'On the Steel Breeze' masterfully avoids pretty much every problem that is presented virtue of its being the middle book in a trilogy. While the back-story matters greatly, this novel starts anew with new characters, and feels fresh. It's a ripping yarn in its own right that builds fiercely to what follows but leaves the reader satisfied with what has come to pass. This is not to say that you won't want the follow-on now. But the ebb and flow of story is handled with great literary finesse. Reynolds manages to find a nice balance between a story that is a part and a story that is a whole.

"On the Steel Breeze' does a fine job at expanding the scale of Reynolds' universe at both ends of the spectrum. In deep space, readers will find an exciting evolution of the ideas seeded in the first novel. Suffice it to say that as ever, Chiku and her fellow humans know less than they think they know, and not just about what they discover, but as well, about the things they have created. This is great news for readers who seek a sense of wonder, less so for those in space.

On Earth, what we don't know proves to lead to a finely wrought undermining of the diffident utopia described in 'Blue Remembered Earth.' Reynolds very cleverly embraces his own ideas until that embrace has unpleasant consequences for all involved. The friction of a utopia being slowly upended provides for lots of thought-provoking plot complications.

Holding this all down, keeping the ideas and plot twists engaging are a cast of characters who feel genuinely flawed and occasionally heroic. The three Chiku's are the mainstay of the novel, and as one might expect, they fall into a sibling-like relationship. It is decidedly un-utopian, but very much like a real family. Surrounding family; husband and children, feel real, but don't overwhelm the narrative thrust. Eunice is the main "returning" character, and anytime she's the on the page she's a blast to be around.

'On the Steel Breeze' proves to be a real revelation of just how much you can pack into a relatively short novel. Like anyone, like the characters in the novel even, readers want everything. We want far-flung space opera and we want two-feet-on-the-earth futuristic drama. We want family and we want aliens, community and artificial intelligence, hard politics and believable science. 'On the Steel Breeze' is proof you don't have to settle for just the world; you can have this world and others, so long as you are willing to risk losing them to the generations who will follow.

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