Friday, June 19, 2015

Review: Slow Bullets

Title: Slow Bullets
Author: Alastair Reynolds
Pages: 192
ISBN: 9781616961930 / 9781473218420
Publisher: Tachyon Publications / Gollancz
Published: 2015 / 2017
Genre: Science Fiction / Novella
Source: Review copy from publisher

From the author of the Revelation Space series comes an interstellar adventure of war, identity, betrayal, and the preservation of civilization itself.

A vast conflict, one that has encompassed hundreds of worlds and solar systems, appears to be finally at an end. A conscripted soldier is beginning to consider her life after the war and the family she has left behind. But for Scur—and for humanity—peace is not to be.

On the brink of the ceasefire, Scur is captured by a renegade war criminal, and left for dead in the ruins of a bunker. She revives aboard a prisoner transport vessel. Something has gone terribly wrong with the ship.

Passengers—combatants from both sides of the war—are waking up from hibernation far too soon. Their memories, embedded in bullets*, are the only links to a world which is no longer recognizable. And Scur will be reacquainted with her old enemy, but with much higher stakes than just her own life.

Buy it from:
The Book Depository
Gollancz Hardcover Edition

Slow Bullets, the new novella by Alastair Reynolds is space opera condensed into one of its most potent forms. Mystery, conflict, crisis, strange aliens and a story of interstellar scope - you’ll find it all crammed into a little under 200 pages. Never has that old adage about small packages been truer.

I don’t really want to go into details about the premise which makes it incredibly difficult to adequately write this review. This is one of those narratives where you really need to go in blind and join the characters on their journey as they slowly uncover the full extent of the situation they find themselves in. The impact of this story relies on experiencing the jarring sense of dislocation first-hand.

The story is told in the first-person from the viewpoint of Scur, a female soldier, who inadvertently ends up as one of the leadership figures onboard the Caprice, a FTL skipship. With no idea how she got there she slowly uncovers the truth behind the dire situation the Caprice and its passengers find themselves in. While trying to come to terms with their predicament she has to find a way to keep the peace, balancing her desire for vengeance with that of survival.

There is a poignant moment very reminiscent of Fahrenheit 451 where the occupants of the Caprice are asked to sacrifice their entire identities, the only tangible ties they have left to their past in order to preserve a small part of civilization for the future.
“...we have the chance to make a difference. But we have to give up what we are. We have to sever ourselves from the past. From everything that mattered to us once, everything that made us what we are. We have to let that go.” Taken out of context like this, it doesn't provide a real sense of what they give up, but once you've read the novella you'll understand what a massive sacrifice it turns out to be.

Slow Bullets is an intimate, character-driven story that manages to draw you into the very skin of the characters. It’s that very empathy with Scur that provides the story with its true impact culminating in a sad, thought-provoking ending that still manages to offer a glimmer of hope for the future of humanity.

My only criticism, and it’s mainly a selfish one, is that I would have loved to have seen the story fleshed out into a full length novel. There is so much potential here and some elements could have done with a bit more exploration (the data capacity of the bullets for one). The themes explored are fascinating and I definitely ended up craving more.

*A bit of clarification: the ‘bullets’ are more akin to dog tags, the identification tags military personnel wear, than to actual bullets used in firearms. The blurb makes far more sense if you know that.

The Verdict:
Slow Bullets is an engaging, evocative and touching space opera. It’s a story about sacrifice, redemption and ultimately of hope. It has all the hallmarks of what fans have grown to expect, but also shows that Reynolds is adapt at crafting a far more intimidate tale. With such a rich setting and a myriad of themes at play, this is a story well worth reading!

The Rating: 7 (Very good)

In February 2017 Gollancz released a hardcover edition of the novella which should be a worthy addition to any Alastair Reynolds collection.

Thanks to Charlene from Jonathan Ball Publishers for the review copy of the Gollancz edition of the novella and Tachyon Publications for the original eARC.

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