Pushing Ice is at its core about a fight between two close friends. The twist is that this fight takes place on a comet mining ship that is pursuing an alien artifact, the conflict between the two quickly escalates to encompass the entire crew of the ship and advanced technologies come into play as the true nature of the alien artifact is revealed. Ok, it sounds a little familiar. After the more experimental Century City, Pushing Ice is Reynold's take a crack at some of the more established themes in hard SF and does a very good job of it.
Not to say there aren't faults. Some parts of the novel, especially those dealing with the more advanced technological aspects seem pared back. Also, the novel starts slowly only to race to a finish as things get interesting. Still, at a little under 400 pages there is no dearth of material.
As with his earlier work, Pushing Ice is loaded with scienctific concepts real (relativity) and hypothetical(femtotech). What is surprising is how well this technology is integrated into the story line. Infodumps are a mainstay of hard SF and it is refreshing to see it handled so well here. Another well handled device is to have the characters and by implication the reader essentially traveling blind. There is an element of mystery and surprise present throughout the entire novel which keeps the pages turning.
For those who have enjoyed Reynolds' previous books this one will not dissapoint. For those who have not yet read his other work, this is the one to start with.
on May 26, 2006
Alastair Reynolds's novels are reliably fascinating at the "big idea" level. He's got a truly first rate hard-SF imagination, and the chops to take cool ideas and reveal them via action plots, often hiding the really neat ideas convincingly until the end. He is a "light speed limit" author, and fascinated with Deep Time. And all this describes Pushing Ice quite excellently.
The novel opens with a curious prologue set 18,000 years in the future, describing an ambitious plan to celebrate the legendary Benefactor who started humanity on the road toward expansion into the Galaxy. Then we get a flashback to 2057, and the story of this Benefactor, a woman named Bella Lind. Bella is the captain of an ice mining spaceship, the Rockhopper. This ship is diverted to chase a moon of Saturn, Janus, which has suddenly accelerated and headed out of the Solar System: clearly, it's an alien artifact of some sort. Bella, however, must convince her crew to go along: it's a highly dangerous mission, and their corporate bosses do not inspire confidence. One of Bella's key links to the crew is her close friend, engineer Svetlana Borghesian.
Svetlana originally supports Bella, but when she later discovers that they have less fuel than they thought, and that the corporation seems to have been hiding his fact, she begs for a turnaround, and turns against Bella when she refuses. This sets up the central human conflict of the story, between Bella and Svetlana, who oscillate as leaders of the expedition over time. And what about the expedition? Eventually they reach a point of no return, and they are forced to essentially colonize Janus, while trying to unlock its secrets. Janus is traveling towards a Structure around the star Spica, 260 light years distant, which means a long journey is ahead of them. And in the end this journey turns out to be unimaginably longer than they can ever have expected.
Pushing Ice gives us a dramatic, though not to my mind entirely convincing, human story of the conflict between the two women and their factions. Both have some reason for their actions, but both also do terrible things, commit tremendous betrayals. At the same time we are given a tense story of survival in an alien environment, which I found interesting but again not quite convincing. And finally we have a story about contact and communication with aliens, embroilment in inscrutable alien politics, and at the end, a story of confronting truly Deep Time, the very far future. This, to me, works best of all: the payoff here is very effective, mysterious and awe-inspiring.
I've been known to suggest that Reynolds's novels are a bit too long, and this one is as long as his others, but I must say that I was gripped throughout. There's a lot going on: a lot of neat SFnal ideas, some "small" in the sense of being fairly near future technological speculation, and others "big" in the sense of dealing with the ultimate fate of intelligent races. It's not perfect: I've already quibbled about a couple of things, and I have to say that I could not quite believe in the main characters, even though I did manage to care for them. But it is, well... cool, and it pushes my SF reader buttons just right.
on January 26, 2006
After his hugely successful debut quartet (Revelation Space, Chasm City, Redemption Ark, and Absolution Gap) Alastair Reynolds has begun widening his range. Century Rain and his latest, Pushing Ice, are set in different universes from each other, and from the shared universe of the first four books. And whereas Century Rain takes place at a time intermediate between the present and that of Revelation Space, Pushing Ice starts in the near future - 2057, to be precise. As to where it ends... well, that would be telling.
The action begins when Janus, one of Saturn's moons, mysteriously leaves orbit and accelerates towards the edge of the Solar System. The only vehicle in position to intercept its path is the nuclear-powered mining ship Rockhopper, with its crew of 145 captained by Bella Lind. At the request of Deepshaft, the owners, Bella asks the crew if they are willing to take the unknowable risks involved. Swayed by the promise of huge bonuses, a majority votes to go for it, and the chase is on. But instead of three days of high acceleration, a week of observation, and laughing all the way home to the bank, they soon find themselves fighting for their lives.
It would be wrong to give away any more of the plot, as its effectiveness rests largely on a series of surprises that go on right to the end of the book. Suffice it to say that, while slowly but steadily building up the tension and introducing us to a wide cast of characters, Reynolds weaves in some fascinating technical ideas - from an effective method of freezing dying people for future resuscitation to the potential implications of femtotech (a step beyond nanotech) and relativistic time compression. Watch out, too, for some mind-boggling aliens: in 45 years of reading SF, I have never come across anything quite like the Musk Dogs or the Fountainheads.
Other reviewers seem to have been disappointed at the obvious differences between Pushing Ice and Reynolds' first four books. It seems to me that these are the inevitable consequences of his decision to tackle a near-future scenario, along with slightly greater emphasis on characterisation and social relationships. The people of Absolution Gap, for example, are so alien to us - what with their nanotech implants and exotic lifestyles - that it is difficult to empathise with them. Hard SF writers are always being criticised for neglecting the "wetware element", but often their attempts to introduce it backfire badly. Reynolds does pretty well, I think: his people are believable, well differentiated, and easy to like or dislike. All in all, I still think he is the best SF writer active today, and this book is a worthy successor to his previous work. It certainly isn't Jane Austen, and it won't suit readers who want a brisk, action-packed, 200-page novel; but it is ideal for those of us who love to get stuck into a long, detailed SF saga.
on March 30, 2013
This is the only Audible audiobook (out of over 250 purchases) that I've ever returned for a refund.
I was delighted to find a hard SF audiobook with a fascinating premise -- one of Saturn's moons leaves its orbit and takes off on a course heading out of the solar system and toward a distant star, and the nearest ship that can reasonably pursue and investigate is a commercial ice-miner working on a comet. The science was chewy and satisfying, the writing was competent, and the narrator listenable, even if he did sound a bit like he was accustomed to voicing animated characters.
But then I tripped over what should have been intelligent, competent characters -- the ship's captain and one of its senior officers, both of them powerful, mature women who were long-time close friends as well as shipmates -- behaving in a manner so inexplicably stupid and petty that it defied credibility. Initially I tried to push through it, hoping that it was a one-time fumble in an otherwise well-written book, but no such luck. The captain, in particular, persisted in behaving like an immature middle school girl, and the resulting conflict between the two characters felt painfully manufactured and just plain stupid.
No matter how enticing the plot, I can't get past that. I wanted to love this book; I would have settled for liking it. But there was just no getting past its flaws in characterization.
Two stars for a good premise, good science, and a decent narrator. That's the best rating I can give it.
on February 19, 2006
I've enjoyed Alastair Reynolds' books since I stumbled upon Revelation Space. I was a bit disappointed by Century Rain - partly because I just wanted more in the Revelation Space series... partly because it didn't live up to the promise of Reynolds' earlier books. I enjoyed reading it, but not as much as I'd hoped.
Pushing Ice is an improvement... it's a good solid epic space story. Reynolds has a knack for good ideas and good characters, and it shows in Pushing Ice. There's a particular conflict in the story that doesn't quite work for me; unfortunately it's central to the plot, but it felt a bit forced (like these people should have known better). I could have done with a bit more explanation/exploration of the bigger picture, too. Regardless, I really enjoyed the story and am looking forward to his next book.
on January 15, 2008
For the most part I enjoy hard science fiction novels like this. But this one was hard going. A celestial object, thought to be the small moon of Saturn- Janus, suddenly takes off, leaving the solar system in a hurry. Long range scans and the the sudden acceleration reveal that the object is some type of alien artifact. The crew of Rockhopper, a giant ice mining spaceship, is assigned to rendevous with the mysterious object. This assignment comes because they are the only ship that can possibly catch up with the unknown artifact.
The crew is divided as to the proper course of action. Some believe that they will expend so much fuel that they will be unable to return to earth. Tensions mount as they arrive at the point of no return. the female Captain, Bella insists that they push ahead while one her top engineers, Svetlana believes that their earth handlers are deliberately misleading them as to their chances to make a return journey home. Eventually they become stranded on this alien worldlet. And they have a long journey, many light years ahead of them. This middle portion of the book reminds me of the Garden of Rama saga as they are stranded on a huge alien space vehicle whose purpose is a total mystery.
During this long journey the large crew is divided into 2 factions, supportive of either Bella or Svetlana. In order to survive the crew must unlock the secrets of Janus. All of this is an interesting big concept sci fi stuff. The trouble is the character development is so poor I lost interest in the plight of crew. Many key elements that should lead to character building are only briefly mentioned. For instance the author only casually mentions the birth of children on Janus and only briefly mentions how and why a murder was committed. The narrative concerning the scientific study of Janus is well detailed but there is much less of the important dialog that makes the reader care about the main characters.
on March 27, 2011
Pushing Ice being my 9th Alastair Reynolds novel (excluding the already read Zima Blue and Galactic North story collections), you could say I'm kind of experienced when it comes to the realm of the science fiction of Reynolds, and of modern space opera at that.
The start is a little confusing with a profusion of job oriented individuals aboard a mining ship. This is quickly dispensed with as the plot builds. With the sudden announcement that their mission will be refocused to intercept a self-powered moon of Saturn, the crew becomes split whether to head into deep space after the anomalous craft or to stay put closer to earth. As the time elapses during their solar system traversing, it becomes abundantly clear to engineer Svetlana that the fuel situation isn't as it should be. This is the major crux of the novel when Svetlana feels belittled by her knowledge even with years of experience, feels betrayed by her captain and friend and future arch enemy Bella, and feels victimized and persecuted by her own company. Her victimization and intuition play an important role in her stance among the sympathetic crew. This is only within the first third on the novel, too!
The next third of Pushing Ice reads much like Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars where the colonists (unwilling colonists on the once-moon Janus) form a government, trek across a barren and mysterious landscape and deal with unending problem of a social being also being opinionated and fractional at the same time. Growing pains are felt, sentences are dealt and egos take a pelt.
The remaining third reads much like Charles Stross' Accelerando, where the characters are subject to rapid changes in technological advancement towards the singularity. In Accelerando, this scientific singularity approaches rapidly when the cast are hammering out new thingamajigs every other page as they explore their every changing social standing. In Pushing Ice, this singularity is being limited by the aliens which have benevolently coddling them along in the years. We see the colony grow, the hate come to a slow and the possibilities glow.
The only hitch holding back this niche of humanity is the witch-with-a-b cat fighting. Svetlana is a conniving demon breed of women who spits fire and never forgets past transgressions. Bella, on the other hand, has a mild temper, has the patience of a saint even while in exile and is able to forgive her captors. The reoccurring flares of Svetlana's hatred towards Bella and her distrust of any second-hand information is a serious annoyance, enough to drop the entire novel from a 4.5 star rating to a 3.5 star rating. You'll just want to yell at the book, "Get it over it woman! Jesus!"
Reynolds pens a pretty good novel here. A great addition is added to the novel, that addition which we see in the opening: a future human civilization wants to pay tribute to Bella's great deed 18,000 years ago and does so by an unmentioned means. The means brings about a much greeted addition to the last third. The dialogue isn't nearly as dry as the Revelation Space series and it isn't as spastic or chronologically chaotic like Century Rain. It's a pretty easy read considering its nearly 600 pages. Some of it is a tad predictable but not in an overencompassing manner. I would have liked to have seen Janus better explored, the aliens better explored and the Object better explored. Having said this, the exploration of what Reynolds created wasn't satisfactory to me but left me with enough awe to be content with.
on July 17, 2013
This is a great idea for a sci-fi novel, but the two main characters are so irritating and off-putting that I really didn't care a whole lot towards the end. Svetlana is one of the most disagreeable characters I've come across in almost 50 years of constant reading. It's one thing to make your bad guys descipable, but it's something else entirely to make one of your two main protagonists so easy to hate. So once again we have the usual sci-fi mix of great ideas and bad writing.
on December 2, 2015
In a number of ways, it's a less brutal story than are most of his, but in at least one way - the relationship between the two protagonists, Bella and Svetlana - it contains a more brutal relationship than any I remember in any of his other books. Brutal for the raw emotional attachment between the two.
As for the story and the underlying science, both take the reader to shockingly unexpected places, and, as always, Reynolds's science is both hard science and uncompromisingly hard simultaneously. Me, myself, I prefer my physics to have more "wiggle room" than the unapologetically Relativity-governed universes in which his tales play out. Frankly, from nearly anyone besides Reynolds, I find such Relativity -constrained tales claustrophobic at best and boringly banal at worst...except when its Reynolds. In his hands, the Laws of Physics that we appear to have been immutably, inescapably dealt nonetheless suggests (with all the plausibility I require) the possibility of a future for Humanity out in the stars that can be a grand adventure for us all.
It is the rare hard science writer that offers a milieu in which satisfying space opera is a plausible future. I can't think of mor than a handful of writers who have pulled it off, and none of them close to the equal of Reynolds.
Pushing Ice is not his best, most polished work - a premonitory sense that I've had about it for years, which is probably why I had put off reading it until there was nothing else left of him to read (to date), but., though my premonition was correct, it was overly harsh. There is much too much on offer in Pushing Ice to let it go unread. Yes, by his standards, it's got a flew flaws. By the standards of all but his very few fellows at the top of the contemporary Sci-Fi pyramid, it's that rare book rigidly bound by the Laws of Science that still abounds in magical adventure.
on November 9, 2008
Alastair Reynolds is excellent, sometimes brilliant, when it comes to science. Unfortunately he doesn't understand people as well as he understands physics. In his books "Revelation Space" and "Redemption Ark" the characters tend to lack depth and be a little two dimensional, but not so much that it interferes with the story. In "Pushing Ice", however, the characters make it very difficult to enjoy the book. The characters do things which are so incredibly stupid that you almost want them all to die. And it's not as if a character was written with a flaw that causes them to make a poor decision. Mr Reynolds needs to get the plot from point A to point B, and instead of thinking of a really clever way to make the transition, as he has in some of his other books, he makes a character do something completely retarded.
I really enjoy Mr Reynolds' books, and regret giving this one a bad review. But not as much as I regret the huge flaws in "Pushing Ice". Read "Revelation Space" instead, it is an excellent book.