Monday, January 11, 2010

Pushing Ice

I finished reading the science-fiction novel "Pushing Ice" by Alastair Reynolds yesterday. It was actually a christmas gift for Love, but I looked through it at some point where I had nothing to do and instantly got caught by the story. I told him he could read it later.

"Pushing Ice" is about the space-ship Rockhopper, and its crew of 140 people who work in the outer limits of our Solar system by launching bits of rock towards earth. A sort of space mining one could say. Then suddenly they get the message that Janus, one of Saturns moons, isn't behaving like a moon should anymore. In fact it is moving away from Saturn and away from the Solar system. Earth designates Rockhopper, who happens to be the ship closest to this strange phenomena, to take a look before Janus is lost out into space forever.

This starting and the subsequent events for the first third of the book or so actually resemble the old "Rendezvous with Rama" by Arthur C Clarke alot. It feels like Reynolds thought about what that story would end up like if it went on for twice or three times as long as it does. It's a really interesting idea and I like what Reynolds has done with it. The book is parted into three phases, each one even more imaginative than the one before. Although the story starts out simple enough, it soon becomes a whole lot of intrigue and happenings and it really sucks you in as a reader. I had a really tough time putting this book away.

There are usually two components to a science-fiction novel, which can make out a bigger or lesser part of the whole. Those are the science parts and the fiction parts (duh). The science part of Pushing Ice is great. Reynolds has done a great job coming up with interesting and thought through ideas that still aren't that crazy that you don't understand anything, which is a problem with some science-fiction works in my opinion. Some science-fiction writers go so much over the top that they start to feel more like fantasy writers, or like something taken from Douglas Adams. Inventing something without cutting it totally from what we understand as reality isn't easy.

As for the second part, the fiction, I mean the people. Some science-fiction writers, like Isaac Asimov, put most of their work around the people, and some don't. Reynolds has a good mix between these two and has also does a fairly good job in describing believable reactions from people who end up in a very odd situation. Although I don't agree with everything the characters of the book do, and in fact I got somewhat annoyed at their actions at times, I still understand the reasons behind Reynolds having them act that way. I have to admit it does add alot to the story, eventhough it is compelling to look at in the same way BigBrother is, with it's absurd drama and tension between people. On the other hand, these people face a unique and highly stressful situation, which could make anyone act in a strange way. Also among 140 people it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to say one or two happen to be really illogical beings. It's just a freak coincidence that it happens to be the two main characters of the story.

Nothing of this ruins the mood or the flow of the story. Each new element is presented and implemented in just the right way and tempo to keep the reader on edge at all times. As a reader you will always struggle with trying to understand what is happening and what will happen, without ever letting you hang in total confusion. Just the way a good science-fiction novel, or space-opera as this is called, is supposed to be. I will look into more books by Reynolds, and hope they are all as good as this one.

1 comment:

  1. I liked the comment about Asimov because he is often criticized for his characters being too "flat" and poorly developed... I never understood that criticism. As for Reynolds, the good thing about him is that he is such a scientific hardliner, no magic nonsense anywhere. Well, he is a physicist, after all. The first book, Revelation Space, is so much action, advanced physics and terrific plots that you don´t mind about the poor character descriptions... But he has developed that a lot in his later books.