Ace Science Fiction / Penguin Putnam
US Hardcover First
524 Pages; $23.95
Date Reviewed: 03-26-02
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel
Alastair Reynolds' debut novel 'Revelation Space' was an exercise in excess. There were too many fantastic ideas and too many wonderful scenarios to be dealt with in a single novel. The idea at the core of 'Revelation Space' demanded a sequel, but 'Chasm City' is not that sequel. 'Chasm City' is a mystery of identity, set in the titular city in the same universe as 'Revelation Space'. Chasm City is a city suspended over a huge crevasse on the planet of Yellowstone. It's old and complicated. It's been built up and been run down. But that's not the idea at the center of this novel either. No, the warning at the beginning of the novel gives the readers an idea what part of 'Revelation Space' was plucked and planted to create this incredible novel. "Yellowstone was in thrall to what most contemporary observers chose to term the Belle Epoque....The Melding Plague attacked our society at the core...It was not quite a biological virus, not quite a software virus but a strange and shifting chimera of the two...The Melding Plague actually happened, and its effects were far worse than you are currently capable of imagining." But the effects of this plague are certainly well within the imagination of Reynolds. 'Chasm City' is about a society that has rotted from within, and individuals in that society who have rotted from within.
The story is framed and largely written in the voice of Tanner Mirabel, a rather dull security expert who has come to Chasm City to avenge the death of his former client at the hands of a "postmortal" named Argent Reivich. But alternating with this story, we get another story, the story of Sky Haussman, now seen as a political criminal, but at one time regarded as a colonizing hero. As Mirabel enters Chasm City and burrows deeper and deeper into the mystery of the City, the riches and the plague, Hausman's life unravels before the reader's eyes.
'Chasm City' could be a page-turner, but for most readers it won't be. That's because the scenes that Reynolds creates re so fantastic you'll want to linger, and you'll be glad that Reynolds lingers. From the Mulch to the Canopy, Reynolds travels the length and breadth of his rotting city, in all its decaying splendor. He also spends the right amount of time with his characters, giving each enough layers and shades to make their shabby lives complex and compelling. As Mirabel powers through the city spouting lines from 20th detective fiction, as his own sense of self unravels along with the plots spun by Reivich and other, more incomprehensible entities the maze that the reader is being taken into becomes deeper than the reader could have suspected. It furrows into the mind and leaves tracks that won't go away. Once you read 'Chasm City', you won't be leaving.