It’s been ages since I read any of Alastair Reynolds’ work, and I think it’s high time for a reread. This novella reminded me of all the things I loved about his series: weird unknowable aliens, amazing tech, mysterious cataclysms, and yes, a strong female character too. And maybe now, with the extra reading and studying I’ve done since, I’ll know more about the science aspect of the fiction as well, and be able to appreciate it more.
This is an engaging read, narrated by a survivor from a war that bears some similarities with conflicts of the modern day: two sides, fighting over different interpretations of a Book, in which there is beauty and power but also the potential for great division. Yet these survivors have to put that aside, because it’s no longer relevant. The story has elements of a generation ship set-up, along with exploration of a mysterious object — in this case, the ship itself, which is suffering from data loss for reasons that, at first, take some understanding.
If you’re really wedded to hard SF, then the Sickening might annoy you, coming as it does without an explanation of the mechanism. I don’t know if it’s explainable or not, but that didn’t matter to me; it was a backdrop for the situation Reynolds created aboard this ship.
There’s something rather dispassionate and unpredictable about the narrator, Scur. I was never sure what she was going to do, what exactly drove her. But I get the sense that that was, in many ways, intentional — and given the way she’s telling her story, unavoidable. Part of the way she’s telling the story bothers me a little — seriously, etching 50,000 words into metal? — but I don’t mind suspension of disbelief, and at least the style matches with that conceit: Scur doesn’t waste her words.
Overall, very enjoyable for me. My sister’s hopping with impatience for it already…