Century rain by Alastair Reynolds

I found this book to be a compulsive page-turner; something I wasn’t expecting. Given that Reynolds is noted for his strict real-world physics approach (even if he does probe the boundaries of the possible from time to time), I wasn’t entirely expecting an alternate history novel from him. But Reynolds has found a way to deliver such a thing in a manner totally consistent with “real” physics.

The story concerns archaeologists excavating a post-disaster Earth that has been ravaged by uncontrolled nanotechnology, and a noir thriller plot set in a 1950s Paris – but not the Paris we are familiar with. The two are linked via wormhole technology – again, well described with a proper feel for the technicalities that a practical application of such technology would involve.

The Parisian scenes are well written and vivid; Reynolds acknowledges a debt to Georges Simenon; film fans should think of Jules Dassin’s ‘Rififi’ to get the feel of the piece. About two-thirds of the way through, the Paris character experiences conceptual breakthrough and comes into the future world, and I was concerned about the gear change the novel goes through into space opera. I needn’t have worried; the action was seamlessly added in, and was itself both exciting and strange. (Even the fact that one character appeared to spring out of nowhere didn’t cause too many problems, as that character never actually appeared on-stage, which in retrospect seems strange but at the time worked surprisingly well. Reynolds has done this trick before; it’s akin to the real world, where our lives and what we do can be affected by politicians who we know a lot about, and whose decisions impact our lives directly but who we hardly never meet, do not interact with, and know nothing about on a personal level.)

In all, a book with an intriguing premise, a puzzle that gets deeper even as we find out more, and some characters who we engage with closely.

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