Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds takes place in the “Revelation Space” universe, which is the far flung future of human civilization. The series as a whole is some of the best hardcore science fiction being published currently. Reynolds does not delve into the fantasy realm at all. Science, however beyond our current understanding, remains at the heart of this series.
The linear stories from this series can be found in other books, namely Revelation Space, Redemption Ark and Absolution Gap. Chasm City, however, is tangential to those books in as much as it shares a setting without any overlap in characters.
The novel features a close up look at one of the pillars of Reynolds future inter-galactic civilizations in the planet of Yellowstone. After a machine-virus plague that destroys the cybernetic implants and ruins much of the technological advancement of the once great Yellowstone, the main protagonist of the story, Tanner Mirabel, finds himself unexpectedly arriving at a worn down and disheveled society. Mirabel is pursuing an old enemy across multiple star systems in hopes of vengeance for the death of someone close to him. It’s an old debt by cosmic terms but that is, in part, due to the statis mode that Mirabel enters to pursue his old foe across galaxies.
This novel differs slightly compared to the linear novels by focusing much more closely on a single character. Reynolds uses a deft trick to weave a second narrative plot around the main protagonist — a unique version of the flashback — but the story is Mirabel’s through and through. At first, this makes the book a bit tedious given that Mirabel is involved in a length pursuit to little avail after his old foe, Argent Reivich. The start of the novel drags due to the drawn out chase that Reynolds inflicts upon the storyline.
The upside of the slow moving plot is that Reynolds gets the opportunity to show his strength, which is a natural ability for immensely interesting science oriented fiction. Whether it is delving into genetic splicing and viruses, advanced modes of travel in a post-star faring society or the nano-technology that was both the uprising and downfall of Yellowstone. The details, when they spring up during Mirabel’s pursuit, are interesting even when the plot inches forward.
Much like the linear novels, Reynolds also plays a game of cat and mouse with the reader. His novels characteristically feature late book twists that can be shocking. It’s towards the latter quarter of the novel that the answers start to emerge from Reynolds writing and the book’s pace accelerates noticeably. There’s considerable time spent reflecting on actions in the first half of the book that cast them in a significantly different light. The clues seem so obvious retrospectively that it is frustrating to have not seen them the first time around.
Most of this is deftly done. There is one nuance to the conclusion that feels cheap and has little explanation offered for its occurrence. Namely, Mirabel’s acquisition of a third set of memories that should not be his own. There’s a deus ex machina comment about these memories, which prove crucial to our understanding of the character’s motives and behaviors up to this point, but the process of their acquisition is never provided. That hand-waving solution to the corner Reynolds had written his character into detracts from an otherwise stunning final reveal.
This is overall a worth addition to the “Revelation Space” series. It works as a stand alone novel but is probably better understood as part of the larger universe particularly if read after the titular novel, Revelation Space. Reynolds coy plotting of the book and knack for scientific detail is compelling even in the face of a sometimes slow novel.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds