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

Beyond Weird - Philip Ball *****

It would be easy to think 'Surely we don't need another book on quantum physics.' There are loads of them. Anyone should be happy with The Quantum Age on applications and the basics, Cracking Quantum Physics for an illustrated introduction or In Search of Schrödinger's Cat for classic history of science coverage. Don't be fooled, though - because in Beyond Weird, Philip Ball has done something rare in my experience until Quantum Sense and Nonsense came along. It makes an attempt not to describe quantum physics, but to explain why it is the way it is.

Historically this has rarely happened. It's true that physicists have come up with various interpretations of quantum physics, but these are designed as technical mechanisms to bridge the gap between theory and the world as we see it, rather than explanations that would make sense to the ordinary reader.

Ball does not ignore the interpretations, though he clearly isn't happy with any of them. He seems to come clo…

Jim Baggott - Four Way Interview

Jim Baggott is a freelance science writer. He trained as a scientist, completing a doctorate in physical chemistry at Oxford in the early 80s, before embarking on post-doctoral research studies at Oxford and at Stanford University in California. He gave up a tenured lectureship at the University of Reading after five years in order to gain experience in the commercial world. He worked for Shell International Petroleum for 11 years before leaving to establish his own business consultancy and training practice. He writes about science, science history and philosophy in what spare time he can find. His books include Atomic: The First War of Physics and the Secret History of the Atom Bomb (2009), Higgs: The Invention and Discovery of the ‘God Particle’ (2012), Mass: The Quest to Understand Matter from Greek Atoms to Quantum Fields (2017), and, most recently, Quantum Space: Loop Quantum Gravity and the Search for the Structure of Space, Time, and the Universe (2018). For more info see: www…

Quantum Space: Jim Baggott *****

There's no doubt that Jim Baggott is one of the best popular science writers currently active. He specialises in taking really difficult topics and giving a more in-depth look at them than most of his peers. The majority of the time he achieves with a fluid writing style that remains easily readable, though inevitably there are some aspects that are difficult for the readers to get their heads around - and this is certainly true of his latest title Quantum Space, which takes on loop quantum gravity.

As Baggott points out, you could easily think that string theory was the only game in town when it comes to the ultimate challenge in physics, finding a way to unify the currently incompatible general theory of relativity and quantum theory. Between them, these two behemoths of twentieth century physics underlie the vast bulk of physics very well - but they simply can't be put together. String theory (and its big brother M-theory, which as Baggott points out, is not actually a the…