The trilogy is a strange creature and is constantly evolving. The original concept was to have three books all telling the same events but from radically different points of view. The framework was concise and enclosed. Then readers and publishers wanted more of characters they had come to love. Authors, too, discovered more that they wanted to say. Sometimes it was to develop the characters in different directions, sometimes it was to produce more of the same. In some cases, the trilogy grew into a series some of which appeared to have no finite ending and the characters remained ageless. Mostly, each book can be read in isolation, in any order. A variation is the trilogy that is one large novel which has to be split into separate tomes, not only because of the sheer volume of words but because the cost of buying separate volumes is greater than what can be reasonably asked for one. The worst of these are fantasy and appear to end mid-sentence, leading to frustration and impatience as reader is denied the next instalment for a period of up to a year. Some writers, particularly SF writers, are developing a new form of the trilogy. The potential for the range in time, distance and technology allows a more expansive view. The volumes of the trilogy are set at different points on the projected time-line of a future history. Characters may or may not be continuous but there is a definite connection. Paul McAuley and Peter F. Hamilton have used this technique. So has Alastair Reynolds.
His earlier novel, ‘Blue Remembered Earth’, introduced the Akinya family. After the collapse of the ‘Western’ nations of the Northern Hemisphere, African entrepreneurs were able to take advantage of the gaps left behind. The Akinyas accumulated a huge fortune by investing in renewable technologies. In ‘Blue Remembered Earth’, younger members of the family embark on what is effectively a treasure hunt, following the clues left behind by their grandmother Eunice, in order to discover their inheritance. The novel introduced a remarkable set of off-world societies. Elephants played a part in the psyche of the characters, as do the people who have chosen to adapt their bodies to an aquatic lifestyle. These are links between the Akinyas in the two novels.
In ‘On The Steel Breeze’, technology has moved on. People, although not immortal, have increased their longevity greatly. Humanity has headed out for the stars, aiming to colonise a particular planet that would require generation ships to reach if life-spans were as short as they are now as Reynolds does not believe in the development of FTL drives or short-cuts through wormholes.
Chiku Akinya has a choice. She can stay on Earth and live a quiet, comfortable life or she can head out after Eunice Akinya’s ship with the prospect finding a way to unlock the physics of space travel or she can go with the colonists as part of the expeditionary ark to the planet of Crucible. The solution is for Chiku to be cloned, have her personality stripped down and rebuilt into the three new Chikus and be in three places at once. Chiku Yellow, who stays on Earth, turned off the link that exchanged knowledge with her counterparts. She would have remained in the situation of not knowing their fate indefinitely except that she is approached by one of the Aquatics who say they need her help. Chiku Green, who went after Eunice’s ship, did return from her mission but is effectively dead. It is possible to retrieve her memories but only if Chiku Yellow is willing.
Once the process for sharing memories is unblocked, she is able to exchange memories with her other third. By this means we get an understanding of what is happening on the fleet ships heading for the Crucible. These are hollowed out asteroids and have been accelerating a long time. The problem is that they cannot slow them down. The original plan had been to work on the problem in flight but after an accident that destroyed one of the ships, the government banned further research into the problem.
Both Chikus have other issues to contend with. High level sentient AIs have been banned and any found will be destroyed. This is to protect humanity from possible subjugation. They are good at hiding. The one that has survived will do anything to remain extant. The one in the solar system has sent a part of itself with the ark. Both parts are not only are good at surviving but also keeping information from the humans they were originally designed to serve. Both Chikus have nasty surprises in store for them. They have one advantage, Eunice and her forward planning.
Reynolds has created a highly complex scenario which has the asset of being a very believable forecast of future human development with enough space from now to make it feasible. It also moves away from the Americanised future by considering a resurgence of Africa as a centre of civilisation. He is also a proponent of the school of science that keep their space exploration within the bounds of the theory of relativity. Travel beyond the Earth’s atmosphere takes time so other, more possible technological developments are envisaged to enhance the plausibility of what is an exciting thriller, the outcome of which is never certain. The book is beautifully written and the characters react naturally.
While it is not necessary to have read ‘Blue Remembered Earth’, some of the subtleties here will be understood better if you have. Enjoy.
(pub: Gollancz. 483 page hardback. Price: £16.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-575-09045-3)