Skip to main content

Aurora Rising (SF) - Alastair Reynolds ****

Originally titled The Prefect, Aurora Rising is the first of the 'Prefect Dreyfus emergencies' books, already followed up by Elysium Fire - like its sequel it's a detective story with a hard SF setting. While I don't think it works quite as well as Elysium Fire, there's still a lot to like here - and given the choice, I wish I'd read this book first.

What is excellent is the complex future world Alastair Reynolds creates, complete with aspects of history, notably 'the 80' which are referred to several times before we get an idea of what was involved. There's a strong mix of cyber-technology - particularly in the form of two extremely powerful AI protagonists, each with their own agendas - and hardware that is in classic SF vein, but with some neat twists, such as the prefects' multipurpose weapon-cum-Swiss-Army-knife, the whiphound.

The main plot line, which involves significant moral decisions from whether it's okay to kill some of your citizens to protect many more, to whether it is best not to tell someone you're about to make them suffer terribly (for medical reasons) to save them mental anguish, is strong. Along the way, the developing threat puts the whole of the 'Glitter Band' collection of 10,000 space habitats at risk.

The only reason I'm not giving this book five stars as I did its sequel is that a couple of the sub-plots seem far fetched. One of these requires someone who believes himself to be one of the good guys to be persuaded it's okay to give over control of their entire civilisation to an unknown despot. It's hard to imagine any argument succeeding in persuading an intelligent person to do this. The other involves a prefect rescuing herself and a group of others from a situation so impossible that even Tom Cruise would turn his nose up at the chance to have a go.

However, despite these slight irritations (and being a little longer than it probably should have been), it's a great book, which I'd highly recommend reading before getting on to Elysium Fire.

Paperback:  

Kindle:  


Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The AI Delusion - Gary Smith *****

This is a very important little book ('little' isn't derogatory - it's just quite short and in a small format) - it gets to the heart of the problem with applying artificial intelligence techniques to large amounts of data and thinking that somehow this will result in wisdom.

Gary Smith as an economics professor who teaches statistics, understands numbers and, despite being a self-confessed computer addict, is well aware of the limitations of computer algorithms and big data. What he makes clear here is that we forget at our peril that computers do not understand the data that they process, and as a result are very susceptible to GIGO - garbage in, garbage out. Yet we are increasingly dependent on computer-made decisions coming out of black box algorithms which mine vast quantities of data to find correlations and use these to make predictions. What's wrong with this? We don't know how the algorithms are making their predictions - and the algorithms don't kn…

Infinity in the Palm of your Hand - Marcus Chown *****

A new Marcus Chown book is always a treat - and this is like a box of chocolates: a collection of bite-sized delights as Chown presents us with 50 science facts that are strange and wonderful.

The title is a quote from William Blake's Auguries of Innocence: 'To see a World in a Grain of Sand, / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand, / And Eternity in an hour.' It would seem particularly appropriate if this book were read on a mobile phone (so it would be literally in the palm), which could well be true for ebook users, as the short essays make excellent reading for a commute, or at bedtime. I found them distinctly moreish - making it difficult to put the book down as I read just one more. And perhaps another. Oh, and that next one looks really interesting...

Each of the 50 pieces has a title and a short introductory heading, which mostly give a feel for the topic. The very first of these, however, briefly baffled me: 'You are a third mus…

How to Invent Everything - Ryan North ****

Occasionally you read a book and think 'I wish I'd thought of that.' This was my immediate reaction to Ryan North's How to Invent Everything. The central conceit manages to be both funny and inspiring as a framework for writing an 'everything you ever wanted to know about everything (and particularly science)' book.

What How to Invent Everything claims to be is a manual for users of a time machine (from some point in the future). Specifically it's a manual for dealing with the situation of the time machine going wrong and stranding the user in the past. At first it appears that it's going to tell you how to fix the broken time machine - but then admits this is impossible. Since you're stuck in the past, you might as well make the best of your surroundings, so the aim of the rest of the book is to give you the knowledge you need to build your own civilisation from scratch.

We start with a fun flow chart for working out just how far back in time you are…