Saturday, 22 September 2007

Alastair Reynolds - Galactic North (review with spoilers)

Galactic North is, as he puts it, is a future history in the Revelation Space universe. Nice to hear about the escape of the Conjoiners (Great Wall of Mars). Glacial was a dull murder mystery. Spy on Europa was a ‘Goose Bumps’ style horror twist.

I liked the love interest in Weather (literally), mostly because I’d like a Conjoiner girl of my own! The plot’s pretence was a little iffy and it’s justification came up in Nightingale (?) too (I forget if it came up in the main novels): the Conjoiners consider forcing AI’s to consciousness (to perform complicated tasks for them) would be slavery. Ok, it allows a non-Singularity fictional universe, which is inherently more possible to explore (sci-fi wise), but it sounds awfully lame!; They ‘force’ their children to consciousness and then allow them (if they’re good enough) to fulfil revered roles such as being the computational core for their interstellar drive units! Why not spawn baby AIs, ‘encourage’ (or sculpt) them towards certain abilities and ‘allow’ them to do that kind of complex, yet very limited job? Like a sheep dog that’s as happy as anything and being very useful simultaneously. Sounds suspiciously like a the Conjoiner’s whole anti-slavery story is just an excuse by AI racists!

You can tell Dilation Sleep is an early piece by Alastair; concentrates hard on the big twist, but doesn’t entirely make sense to read the end (maybe I was just too tired). Grafenwalder’s Bestiary twist I didn’t manage to figure out, so I consider quite clever and the ties with a previous story were kind of rewarding.

Nightingale did give a reasonable concept to ponder: when a Gamma level AI (full human equivalent) running a neutral hospital orbital ship for soldier casualties from both sides of a long running war reaches a high enough level of understanding of it’s role in the world, it decides that it is only perpetuating suffering by healing people, only to return them to active service. In this story, the ship decides to take itself out of the picture, faking it’s own destruction and slinking off. Personally I would have thought that it could (and would likely) have pursued a more direct intervention than sculpting living human shock-art sculptures: with access to the head of military operations for one side and countless other high ranking soldiers on both sides, I’m sure it could have started co-opting them and holding the strings to a planet side puppet show. But then I’m just a fool hardy “put all your trust in AI to save the world” type evangelist!

I expected Galactic North to be a fair sized piece taking back up with the Conjoiners et al from the end of Absolution Gap, but it’s vehicles are new characters (with guest star appearance of Remontoir). It seems rushed with dubious logic, but anyway pertains to be more of a tragic space ballet. Greenfly aren’t really fleshed out any more than being a nonsensical, super-capable but inexplicably unimaginative, homogenising swarm.

Bit disappointing, a few things to think about for sure, but either way another book bites the dust.

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