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84 of 89 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 2012
Alastair Reynolds is known for sweeping, epic, galaxy-wide (and occasionally even intergalactic) space opera. An additional twist comes from his professional background as a physicist: while the science is often wildly speculative, it manages to stay within the bounds of the barely possible better than most space opera. So no faster-than-light travel and no causality violations. Yet somehow he still manages to write up galaxy-wide ancient precursor civilizations, wars that span light-years and aeons, space battles that destroy entire solar systems, and the usual good, clean, space opera fun.

Blue Remembered Earth is painted on a smaller canvas. It is set only about a century and a half in our future, within the Solar System. The more familiar locations, scope, cultures, and characters of the relatively near future are a welcome change of direction.

Reynolds also breaks out of some staid science-fiction conventions. For one thing, in his future world, the dominant cultural, economic, and scientific power is Africa, and all but one of his main characters (Jitendra, of Indian origin) are Africans. Like Ursula K. LeGuin, he doesn't rub your face in it; it's just that much of the action happens in the shadow of Kilimanjar, it's noted that the characters speak Swahili, and the only time somebody's race comes up is if it departs from the norm--i.e., s/he's Chinese or white.

Also, elephants.

I'm pretty much completely clueless about African cultures, so I have no idea how well--if at all--Reynolds has managed to work in cultural particularities of his Kenyan-Tanzaniyan protagonists. I have a suspicion that a Kenyan or Tanzanian might have written it in more strongly: as it is, the only things that struck me as unusual--other than the décor--were the family ties of the Akinya siblings and cousins. They are a good deal stronger than usually portrayed for typically individualist sci-fi heroes.

Blue Remembered Earth is an optimistic book. That's also a very refreshing change from the ever-grimmer dystopias of many current sci-fi authors, and indeed the sticky end Reynolds envisions for his own Revelation Space universe. In his future, humanity has managed to survive the Anthropocene--the near-catastrophic results of climate change--and has entered a new golden age. War is a barbaric feature of the receding past, crime and disease have been eradicated so thoroughly that an attempted murder in Finland or a death from cancer in Australia make the news in Nairobi, and the ecology has been brought back into balance. Colonization of the Solar System is well under way, with the ones too adventurous to live in the Earth's Surveyed Zones emigrating to more anarchic colonies on the far side of the Moon, or Mars, or even further.

Utopias make for pretty boring stories, though, so naturally there's a fly in the ointment. The story is a straightforward treasure hunt across the Solar System, to uncover a deadly family secret with the potential to change humanity's future, or perhaps destroy it. Yes, suitably epic again, in true Reynolds fashion.

I thoroughly enjoyed Blue Remembered Earth, and am looking forward to further instalments in the Poseidon's Children cycle, which the book begins. There are enough loose ends to make sequels possible, but also like most of Reynolds's work, the novel stands very well on its own. As all good sci-fi, Blue Remembered Earth has a lot to say about the world we live in, by portraying a possible future one.

Besides which, who wouldn't love spaceships and astronauts and Martian colonies and iceteroid mining?
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on January 8, 2013
I'm usually a huge fan of Reynolds' work, and when I saw this one I grabbed a copy straight away.

Unfortunately I found it dissapointing, for two main reasons. Firstly, the characters didn't work for me - they do not appear realistic in their interactions. There is one scene where the main protagonist is meeting his sister's boyfriend, and they're arguing. As I'm reading, I'm thinking, "Awesome - there's going to be some dramatic tension here, something to act as a catalyst against the brother and sister relationship." Towards the end of the dialogue, the author throws in a line where the protagonist decides he likes the boyfriend character.

Wait, what? How did that happen?

Second main reason is the story didn't grab me. The premise is interesting, but doesn't appear as lovingly crafted as (for example) House of Suns. I kept trying to force myself to finish this (which I eventually did) rather than having a can't-put-it-down experience that Reynolds is so well known for.

On the other hand, my girlfriend read this and loved it, but can't get into Reynolds' other works (she finds them too "high scifi"). Blue Remembered Earth may be a voyage into a new customer group for the author - it didn't work for me, but your mileage my vary.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2013
I am a huge fan of Alastair Reynolds, but two thirds of the way through, I'm sick of this book. Blue Remembered Earth is an account of a very slow, not very interesting interplanetary treasure hunt. I don't like any of the characters. Geoffrey, in particular, is hard to stomach. Almost every interaction is filled with uninteresting snark and resentment, but it is not at all clear why he should be resentful.

Reynolds is astonishingly imaginative, and his prose is top notch. But this book is a miss. I'm not even sure I'll finish it.
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35 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2012
Before I launch into my review, how can it be that the Kindle version ($21.96) costs so much more than a hardcover version ($17.43)? It was enough to make me think twice about buying this at all, but in the end I bit the bullet and went with the immediate hit of the Kindle.

Anyway, kudos to Reynolds for a novel that I felt is written in a very different voice to his other work. It is hard to pull this off across so many pages, but Reynolds normal aggressive, punchy style is toned down for a more languid pace that reminded me of Kim Stanley Robinson and Neal Stephenson.

He has also toned down the technology in some regards, which is a blessing and a curse, because Reynolds has a first-rate imagination and usually channels that into some very sexy kit, most of which was either totally enigmatic ("Pushing Ice") or leaning toward the explosive end of town (think the "Revelation Space" series). Of course, there is still a ton of high-tech gadgets and wizardry, but they are a supporting cast not really exciting in their own right.

The plot is straightforward enough: a set of mysterious clues from a recently departed doyen of a solar-system wide trading family lead a recalcitrant brother and sister on a merry chase, causing them to clash with their cousins and thrusting them into a web of debt and deception to fund their search.

Of course, it's what you do with the plot that matters and Reynolds has never been shy of painting on a canvas as large as the universe itself. This time his scope seems limited to near-Earth (in galactic terms at least) though he does introduce a bit of a curve ball about half way in that expands the protagonists horizons somewhat.

I really liked that Reynolds got us under the skin of his two main characters in a way reminiscent of Iain M. Banks and Michael F. Flynn. Their emotional state is laid bare; their motivations explored; and their lack of self-awareness gently raised so that we can fully appreciate the tone and tenor of 'why' they are doing what they do.

So far so good.

But, I really, really, really dislike ambivalent heroes. And lead character, Geoffrey Akinya, is one of those "I'd rather be anywhere than here" types who is actually more than ambivalent (though such traits surely are not allowed in this utopian future?). He is pushed and pulled by anyone and anything, displaying very little backbone, in a way that my pop psychology brands as passive aggressive (indeed, Geoffrey actually does get physically aggressive, at which point the overarching 'Mechanism' that monitors everyone's thoughts and actions steps in and punishes him for such lowly intent). Perhaps you can blame it on the Mechanism, but Geoffrey seems to accept 'debts' accrued on behalf of others as his own way too readily, especially given that he's eschewed the Family for so long. And the less said about his elephant fetish the better!

His sister, Sunday, is way less passive and so I found her way less annoying than Geoffrey.

But both siblings, having stepped out of the family to pursue their own objectives, can be pretty frustrating. And perhaps there is a degree of "why are they doing this" in their system-wide steeplechase, because they'd spent so long actively fighting being part of the Akinya trading empire that suddenly lurching into action seems counter to their nature. (To Reynolds credit, his characters do explore this conflict and come to no more clear conclusion than I could.)

Even less credible for me was the Mechanism. Everyone on Earth is patrolled, both physically and mentally, to the point that they'd make those housewives in "Valley of the Dolls" look positively manic. Fortunately, the Mechanism does not intrude too much on the story arc, and is used a couple of times to prod Geoffrey along in the right direction. So that's OK I guess, because once you start to think about such power being deployed you can't but think about such power being abused and despite the references to resource wars and global warming, the "we've come through bad times but we're better people now" does not really stand up to scrutiny against human nature.

But those are minor niggles. "Blue Remembered Earth" has strong enough themes painted on a wide-enough canvas that it remains enjoyable even as I shout from the sidelines for Geoffrey to just "F****N do something". There are various bit players, whole ecologies of transformed humans and a couple of bad guys in the Akinya twins Hector and Lucas (who would have been killed at birth by the Mechanism if there was any justice in the world).

Plus loose ends sufficient for a sequel.

Reyonlds writes good sci-fi and this another of his books that's worth a read. I'd think that if you've enjoyed Kim Stanley Robinson "Red Mars" trilogy, China Miéville's "Perdido Street Station" or Neal Stephenson's "Reamde" then you'll find "Blue Remembered Earth" equally satisfying.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on August 10, 2012
I will preface this by saying that I am a huge Alastair Reynolds fan. I have almost read every book he has on the market, including the collection of his short stories. That being said, while Blue Remembers Earth is a solid book, it falls short in several areas, and nothing much really happens in it.

Blue follows the path of Geoffrey and Sunday Akinya, two siblings from an ultra-rich spare-faring family. Shortly after their grandmother Eunice dies, they embark on a quest to follow a series of clues that the isolated woman left behind. Along the way to a universe changing secret, they encounter several competing factions, vengeful cousins, artificial intelligences, and a lethal space station. It sounds exciting, but Blue Remembers Earth never quite rises above a level of "Mildly Stimulating." The characters can be annoying at times. In particular, Geoffrey seems to get offended very easily, and hurls unwarranted verbal (and at one point, physical) violence towards his cousins. The cousins, Hector and Lucas Akinya, get yelled at by Geoffrey for merely visiting him, or existing. It gets tiring. Other than that large flaw, both of the main characters were likeable, if a bit spoiled. At least the characters themselves explore several of the flaws that make them annoying. The biggest problem that I had with this book was that despite traveling all over our solar system, nothing much happens. I mean, stuff does happen, but it isn't ever awe-inspiring. The book builds and builds and builds, but the payoff at the end is weak and unexciting. I hope future books get a bit more interesting, or I probably won't bother to finish the series.

Oh, I tried to block this out of my memory, but I guess I need to talk about it in a review: Geoffrey has a thing for elephants. That is THE most annoying thing about him. I wish the elephants had been left out entirely.
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23 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on March 16, 2012
This book describes great adventurers in the early days of space exploration, and their thrilling exploits -- How The West Was Won, or rather how the Solar System was won.

Actually, it only hints at them. It's set 60 years after those great adventurers have packed up shop. The book leaves us to follow their grandchildren -- boring unadventurous folk, who lash out all too readily with pointless insults, who don't care for adventure or anything outside their small lives, and who get buffeted by fate like petals on a river. And almost nothing happened for the first 2/3rds of the book apart from long introspections and relationship dramas. I couldn't empathize with the characters, and don't know why anyone would write an entire book about them.

I gave this book 3/5 stars. That's because the quality of writing is very good, and the sci-fi imagination of the author is top notch. He describes a near future with near-future computer and space technologies that are plausible yet astonishing, and he describes an exciting vision of space travel as we can imagine humanity doing it with limited resources.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on June 4, 2012
This is a clear departure from Reynolds' earlier works, most of which I'd describe as masterful, fast paced, intelligent space operas, often with post-human elements and a punk noir flavour. Great escapist reads.

Blue Remembered Earth is slower, more character driven, more contemplative... possibly more 'literary' in flavour (particularly the opening). I was a little put off at first an prepared to 'not like' an Alastair Reynolds book for the first time. I even put it aside, read another book and came back to it. But I'm glad I did come back to it. It's a much more near-term, 'closer to home' story but ultimately the characters are more complex and the concepts are fascinating. And the pace does accelerate.

If you're a little patient, Blue Remembered Earth will reward you with a fun but also thought-provoking story, but if you're a huge Reynolds fan then you might want to pretend to yourself that it's a different author.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 21, 2013
Without spoiling the ending, the plot has the main characters jumping through hoops, dodging danger and criss-crossing the solar system to chase an improbably poorly-laid trail of clues. At any point, the trail could have been lost, and humanity's greatest discovery would have been lost. The protagonist could have simply left a message to be opened at a later date, avoided the whole pointless chase, and assured the message was received.
Total disappointment when the Great Secret was revealed
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on July 15, 2012
I have to agree with some previous reviewers. About the worst book he's put out. Like trying to pour cold molasses. Endlessly returning to insults and attitude between siblings...we get it..ok?

Just an exercise in frustration waiting for the point to arrive. I re-read a lot of my books, this won't be one of them.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 14, 2012
I am an Alastair Reynolds fan boy. I have read every book and novella Reynolds has written (including novellas like The Six Directions of Space). In all of these books, I don't think that Alastair Reynolds has ever written a bad book. Nor is Blue Remembered Earth a bad book. But it is a book without the drive of a strong plot or any real suspense.

Reynolds has written some books with strong plot drive. For example, one of his most memorable characters is Scorpio, a "hyper-pig" who features in the plots of Redemption Ark and Absolution Gap in the Revelation Space books. Coupled with strong characters, there is plot suspense (how will the Inhibitors be defeated, among other things).

The drive and suspense of the Revelation Space books is almost entirely missing in Blue Remembered Earth. We have the story of a wealthy and somewhat dysfunctional African family and a tour through a imagined future. The tour through the future takes the form of imagining how the future will work out, along with various ideas like "Panspermia" (an ideological drive to seed the galaxy with life).

Reynolds' experimentation with ideas is one of the things that makes his fiction so good. But when the experimentation with ideas is devoid of any strong plot elements, we're left with a sort of "Tomorrow Land" imagined by a sophisticated version of Walt Disney.

There are also some strange plot elements. Some critical information, apparently from aliens, is scratched in rock. We never really learn much about this, nor oddly, do the characters in the novel speculate much. Was this some kind of graffiti left by aliens passing through? If it was more than Kilroy Was Here, why was the information not embedded in synthetic diamond or metal? Perhaps it was the equivalent of aliens writing on a white board or a napkin (one alien says to another, "see, it works out like this..."). Yet the characters never find this strange.

There is, of course, a plot in Blue Remembered Earth, but it meanders along. Apparently there will be at least three books in the Poseidon's Children books. It almost feels like there is the plot of one novel diluted in three books.

In short, Blue Remembered Earth is not a bad read, but it is not the best that Reynolds has been capable of. Being a Fan Boy, I will certainly buy the other books, but I'll be doing this in the hope that we have less "tour of tomorrow" and more plot and suspense.

Later: I just bought On the Steel Breeze by Alistair Reynolds, so I am rereading Blue Remembered Earth. The lack of suspense didn't bother me the second time through. In fact, on a second reading I'm not sure why I found that it lacked suspense the first time I read it. Perhaps this was in comparison to Reynold's other books where, among other things, genocidal artificially intelligent self-reproducing automata threaten the human race. On the basis of the second reading, I added another star, since I liked the book more the second time. Perhaps I had a chance to appreciate the book more. Or perhaps it's because I'm different now.

I did notice one thing that I had not noticed the first time: The West (the United States and Europe) appear very little in the story. There are a few passing mentions about the European Union, but the major nations are the African Union, China and India, among the terrestrial "dry land" nations. Perhaps this is meant to emphasize the rise of Africa, but it is difficult to imagine the disappearance of the United States entirely from the world stage. Although perhaps all people living in an empire in an imperial age feel that way.
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