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The Medusa Chronicles Hardcover – June 7, 2016
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"A worthy sequel to a classic." (Jack McDevitt , Bestselling and Nebula award-winning author of SEEKER and STARHAWK)
Two of the most acclaimed contemporary hard SF writerssuccessfully team up in this ambitious epic space opera, spanning almost 800years, that expands the themes raised by Arthur C. Clarke’s classic 1971novella, A Meeting withMedusa. Clarke’s hero, Howard Falcon, suffered horrific injuries in anaccident in 2080, surviving only by cybernetic surgery; his new abilities ledhim to a successful search for extraterrestrial life and positioned him to bean “ambassador... between the creatures of carbon and the creatures of metal.”That unsought status tests Falcon as, over the centuries, robots begin tobecome self-aware and seek autonomy. Humankind’s expansion of its reach beyondEarth provides more opportunity for conflict, and the authors do a superior jobof predicting plausible political developments. The novel’s reach does come atthe expense of some psychological depth, but fans of the authors’ other workwon’t be disappointed. (Publishers Weekly *STARRED REVIEW* May 2, 2016)
"Clearly reverential but never derivative of Clarke’s original work, Baxter and Reynolds’ respective styles work in near-faultless harmony. A joy to read, it’s yet another feather in Baxter and Reynolds’ well-adorned hats." (, SciFiNow)
"The Medusa Chronicles is a good old-fashioned SF tale, strong on big ideas and filled with sensa-wunda and magical moments. There’s even some genuine surprises. It’s an ambitious if not audacious thing to try, and I’ll happily admit that I am a tough critic of anything connected to one of my favourite authors, who inspired me to read science fiction. My main worry before reading was that it would have been a pastiche of one of my heroes, but instead I found a book produced with respect for one of the genre’s most-loved classic authors. I therefore think it fitting if I say that I think that Sir Arthur would be pleased by this." (-- SFFWorld)
"A surprisingly substantial extension of "A Meeting With Medusa" suggested by chance “by Alastair Reynolds in the course of a nostalgic email exchange” with Stephen Baxter, The Medusa Chronicles tells the story of those very centuries, and it is—if you’ll pardon my hyperbole—frickin’ terrific." (-- Niall Alexander , Tor.com)
"The results are remarkable; Baxter and Reynolds may have been working out of reverence for the original story, but this is no mere exercise in nostalgia. It is a breathtaking standalone work, a sci-fi story of rare scope and intelligence, celebrating Clarke’s legacy even as it sets out for new territory." (, B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog)
"The authors exhibit all the speculative brilliance for which they are individually known. With this book, Baxter and Reynolds honor Clarke’s legacy at the same time as they point the way forward for the continuation of Clarke’s brand of optimistic SF which is no mere wish-fulfillment “competence porn” but also a clear-sighted depiction of both the virtues and vices of our species." (Paul Di Filippo , Locus)
"A fitting tribute to the original."
About the Author
Stephen Baxter was born in 1957 and has degrees from Cambridge and Southampton. He is the preeminent science fiction writer of his generation. With Terry Pratchett, he as coauthored the Long Earth novels. As a world-renowned bestselling author, Baxter has won many major awards in the UK, US, Germany, and Japan including the British Science Fiction Award (four times), and he has been shortlisted for the Hugo Award (six nominations), the Arthur C. Clarke Award (seven nominations), and has been awarded the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Theodore Sturgeon Award. He lives in Northumberland with his wife.
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Our protagonist is Commander Howard Falcon, a character directly taken from Clarke, cyborg adventurist who after a full and active life tries to sit on the sidelines but is repeatedly drawn into conflicts as the necessary trusted 'third party' that both sides respect and will listen to. It is a role that incrementally grates on Falcon but each iteration of apparent Statesman is pressed upon him with increasing levels of coercion as conditions in the solar system become ever more inimical to human life and Falcon is forced to consider how his actions may have led to that.
Like in Banks' Culture novels, the technology that underpins Falcon's universe is generally deployed rather than explained. And for the most part it is not at the level of world shattering weaponry we usually find in a Reynolds story, but more human-level tech such as the various robotic bodies that carry Falcon through the centuries. There is also a nice backstory from the early days of NASA that sets the scene for the politics that drive the characters.
This is not an action-adventure novel in the traditional sense. It moves along at a reasonable pace, but it is the pace of one man living a long time while the world occasionally pivots on his shoulders, so there is a languid nature to the plot. Each chapter does not end on an obvious cliffhanger and for the time period spanned, the cast of characters is actually quite limited. All of which might suggest a boring read, but Reynolds and Baxter are experienced story tellers so "The Medusa Chronicles" never dips below the threshold of interesting. The characters are well drawn and the death of one - even though it was clearly going to happen chapters before the event - evoked a sense of loss.
If you like intelligent, thoughtful sci-fi that explores our moral compass and place in the universe and which slowly builds to a satisfying ending, then you will likely really enjoy "The Medusa Chronicles". I certainly did.
It is actually a sequel to Arthur C Clarke's award winning novella, "A Meeting With Medusa", but you don't really need to read this story. In addition to the sentient Medusae within Jupiter's upper atmosphere we also encounter sentient chimps, sentient Machines, and another sentient race within Jupiter.
The reluctant hero of this book is Howard Falcon, who due to a tragic accident is a cyborg. This story chronicles his long life and his attempts to mediate the conflict between Man and Machines. And to top it off the book has a great and very satisfying ending.
I probably have read the original novella back in the depths of time - or at least sometime in the 1970s - but I do not remember doing so. Luckily, THE MEDUSA CHRONICLES does not require the original to have been read to enjoy, appreciate, and understand its story. The novel contains a brief but complete summary of its predecessor, which really is sufficient to allow the reader to move on with the larger work. As a brief synopsis here, Howard Falcon is critically injured when an experimental helium airship crashes. He survives due to surgical techniques that leave him part man, but mostly machine. He later goes on an exploratory mission to Jupiter during which he meets the titular Medusae, among other creatures, that live in the upper layers of the Jovian atmosphere.
THE MEDUSA CHRONICLES starts out as a straight sequel to "A Meeting With Medusa" (with a short side stop to Falcon's childhood, some of the details of which play a part in the later parts of CHRONICLES), but evolves into a terrific story of the conflict between man and machine that is, in effect, kick-started by Falcon who also finds himself in between the two factions trying to broker a peace between the two sides. Falcon watches and participates in events that take place starting at Jupiter, where the machines have their base, to the inner solar system as the machines take over each planet in turn, dismantling Earth in the process. Time and again Falcon is called upon to intervene in the situation that he himself started to try to get the machines to end their inevitable march through the Solar System. The last section of the book is devoted to what ends up being a joint mission to the furthest depths of Jupiter with Adam, the machine that was at the start of it all, to find out what really is way down there in the depths of the great planet and in the process maybe find a solution to the conflict.
There's really a lot going on here. Each section of the novel is a story itself, each one being an instance where Falcon is called upon to deal with the machines. It's not until the final story, where he is called to unknowingly be the delivery system for a virus that will destroy the machines, that the ultimate solution - the unification of machine and man - is the way to get the long elusive peace to occur. It's something of a lesson to the current world that the best way to peace is to work together to make it happen; a bit heavy handed perhaps, and maybe a bit too symbolic, but it is done in an effective way so that the reader may not feel hit too hard over the head with it.
While the book is wonderful on its own, it certainly pays homage to Clarke all along the way, sprinkling references to various Clarke stories, most notably 2001: A Space Odyssey. The journey of Adam and Falcon to the depths of the Jovian atmosphere, if it were to be filmed today, would rival the psychedelic trip of Bowman through the monolith on the way to becoming the Star Child. It's clear that both Baxter and Reynolds know and love the work of Clarke, and at several points in the story I was thrown back to the days of my youth when I devoured all things Clarke. This is truly a terrific novel that fans of Baxter, Reynolds, and Clarke will love. It's a throwback to a different time, when the sense of wonder that was present in the science fiction that we read - maybe it was just because we read those books as young people with eyes wide open to the future - was what brought us into the field to begin with.
I was not fond of Peter Kenny as the narrator. He seemed somewhat monotone and unable to either substantially change his voice to represent different characters or sometimes keep me interested in the narration itself. Often times we are attracted to an audio book because of the narrator; Kenny is not one of those narrators. Luckily, the story itself overshadowed Kenny's performance such that I was deeply enough interested in what was going on more than I was being disappointed in the narration. I may have been distracted by the narration in spots, but the story itself pulled me through it.
Other than Reynolds' SLOW BULLETS, I haven't read anything by either one of these authors in quite a long period of time. It seems that I must dig in to my to read list and move a few books to the head of that list. I think it's time I explore these authors again. That's what a book like THE MEDUSA CHRONICLES will do for you.