Another space opera from Alastair Reynolds. this time not set in his ‘Revelation Space’ universe. I was expecting a novel mainly about cometary mining, and whilst we get some of that just to set the scene, fairly quickly there is a change of gear as the protagonists are diverted to investigate a Big, (not so) Dumb Object – the Saturnian moon, Janus – that is behaving not as moons are supposed to behave. Very quickly, the characters find themselves in a situation going rapidly out of control.
It is the characterisation that drives this book rather than the events. Opinions have differed over how good the characterisation is in this book; I found it better than expected, and also I was suprised to find the characterisation being, for me at least, the key part of the book. The conflict between two powerful women for control of the ship, and their convincing turn and turn abouts as to just who is in the ascendant at ony one time I found very convincing and political.
I was also very taken with the way that Reynolds deals with a spaceship with a crew of 150 or so. Most writers, given this premise, focus on a handful of major characters and leave it at that, leaving the rest as mere spear-carriers. Not so Reynolds. Characters keep turning up and then disappearing, either through death or – more commonly – through just not being involved in that part of the story. They are named, they play parts, and the overall impression is just the same as working in any medium to large organisation; there are people you know well, there are people you deal with from time to time, and there are people you hardly ever speak to or hardly recognise in a corridor. This is one of the few novels to put that idea over in any context; and in a way it also underlined the Way of this particular future, where working on a spaceship mining comets in the outer reaches of the Solar System would be a job like any other.
The intervention of aliens, when it occurs about two-thirds of the way through the book, is interesting and the aliens themselves are well-drawn. They come bearing gifts, and like most gifts come with a price. The Musk Dogs in particular are very well realised.
The denouement was, for me, signalled a few pages in advance with respect to the fates of the two major characters, but that didn’t spoil the book for me. Sequels are possible, but none have emerged as yet; perhaps Reynolds is too busy spinning off new ideas for his current multi-book deal with his publisher to draw breath and revisit earlier works?