It starts when the death of Eunice Akinya, matriarch of a powerful family. It takes us to the moon, to Mars and to the outer reaches of the solar system. At the same time, it tells the personal stories of a brother and sister who turned their backs on their powerful family, but are drawn back into its secrets by their grandmother’s legacy.
Sunday wants to make art, Geoffrey wants to study elephants, and neither want anything to do with their cousins who run the family’s solar system-spanning corporation. As they get to know their grandmother’s associates, they learn that she spent her life doing more than prospecting on the frontiers of known space and that their cousins may not be the best people to discover what it was.
This being Alastair Reynolds, the story is told through the locations as much as the plot and characters, and I found myself feeling as firmly located in the familiar realms of the Serengeti as in the ‘Evolvarium’, an area of Mars set aside for and experiment in machine evolution. Nothing is ever mundane in a Reynolds novel, and I found myself enjoying the quest through our Solar System as much as the piratical airship crews who inhabited part of it.
In spite of the occasional misuse of power tools, Blue Remembered Earth presents a rather utopian future which was a refreshing change from the current trend toward the dystopian and post-apocalyptic. Set two centuries into the future, humanity has successfully adapted to a changing climate and reined in our propensity toward violence. The latter involves a benign global surveillance system that makes it physically impossible to throw a punch, with areas of the moon left unsurveilled so people can opt out of they choose.
The ‘Mechanism’ raises the philosophical question of whether a society gains or loses freedom when people lose the ability to physically harm one another, but it’s a question that remains peripheral to the main story. At its heart, Blue Remembered Earth is a classical quest story in which the clues are scattered around the planets that one woman explored. It made me feel a lot more optimistic about the future than most near future science fiction, including the stories I write myself. Above all, it was a lot of fun to read.