Century Rain Paperback – Apr 2 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
In his latest SF novel, Reynolds (Absolution Gap) creates yet another quirky, noirish vision of humanity's future. Three centuries from now, a technologically induced catastrophe, the Nanocaust, makes Earth uninhabitable. Two versions of humanity—the Threshers, who live in a ring of habitats encircling Earth, and the Slashers, who inhabit the outer planets—each blame the other for the disaster. Both groups share access to a system of artificial wormholes, one of which turns out to contain a perfect copy of Earth, sealed off from the rest of the galaxy, at its far end. The Threshers send archeologist Verity Auger to investigate. On this subtly different version of Earth, Wendell Floyd, a second-rate detective and jazz musician living in Paris in the year 1959, is looking into a very odd murder. Then Auger shows up claiming to be the victim's sister and pursued by lethal creatures who look like decaying children. While Reynolds beautifully details this alternate-universe Paris and handles the developing mystery with aplomb, his Thresher and Slasher cultures lack depth and his climax feels a bit jury-rigged. Still, fans of sophisticated hard SF should be pleased.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Twenty-third-century Earth is an uninhabitable wasteland overrun by rogue nanotechnology. When archaeologist Verity Auger, studying the relics of twentieth- and twenty-first-century Earth, is accused of reckless endangerment after a child in her care nearly dies, shadowy government forces within her department offer her an out in the form of a mission to retrieve information from somewhere where her knowledge of the mid-twentieth century will be useful. Not until she is well underway do they inpart that her destination is an ALS (anomalous large structure) at the end of a wormhole in which 1950s Earth, slightly changed, is preserved. At that other end of the wormhole, Wendell Floyd is a Parisian PI working a case that gets stranger and more dangerous as he and partner Custine uncover the evidence, which is precisely the information Verity must fetch. The threads come together in a race to save both Earths from extremists, in which Verity and Floyd frantically search for the significance and location of three metal spheres. Reynolds blends noirish sleuthing and hard sf remarkably well. Regina Schroeder
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
There is really not much more to say in praise of this book and other reviewers have already described the plot and main characters. Inevitably, there are those who did not enjoy this book, but the world would be a very dull place if we all liked the same thing.
I'll try to define the main points of the plot without spoiling it.
"Century Rain" is set in a future where Earth has been destroyed by nanotechnology. On scary nanotechnology I had recently read "Prey" by Crichton, however, the main theme here is something else. I do not like at all post-apocalyptic stories, but the so-called nanocaust spoken of in this book is just a detail of the plot and defines the environment in which the story moves.
Human survivors live in space stations orbiting the planet. Among them is the main female character, Verity Auger, an archaeologist expert in Paris, which is now just a ghost town. Auger is involved in a very special mission. On Phobos (one of the satellites of Mars) a wormhole was discovered that connects two distant parts of the galaxy. At the other end they found a huge sphere, inside which is a "functioning" replica of Earth, as it was in 1959. An alien species (undefined) has created many replicas of our planet, including this one that you can access. But the timeline in which these humans live in ignorance is a bit different from that of the true twentieth century.
These are the premises. The story is located somewhere between space opera, hard sci-fi, thriller, espionage and time travel, although you do not really travel in time.Read more ›
The future universe he depicts starts from a very promising premise and could have really epic scope, so it's a bit annoying that he spends so little time on it. Instead we get this weird noir detective story with dialogue that's just a series of cliches and rip-offs - he even steals lines from "Casablanca." The biggest mystery here isn't the story, though; it's the question of why the characters do what they do. At times the characters seem like puppets dancing randomly or very obviously *just* to satisfy some particular story need. Indeed, I was left wondering why the entire story happened at all! At the end of it we hardly know any more about why everything happened than we did at the beginning.
The book isn't a total disaster - it was interesting enough to keep me reading to the end - but for everyone's sake I hope his later work has improved!
If you are looking for fascinating science, a WW2 backdrop, and a discussion about the power of music, this book will satisfy. However, if you love three-dimensional characterization as much as I do, this reading experience will leave you wanting.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The Paris detective stuff is really not bad: believable characterisation, trademark snappy dialogue and organic plot development. Genuinely page-turning stuff.
At the half-way point it's all change, however. We get into an extended hi-tech chase sequence and the plot development stalls. The editor should have been harsher here. More serious is the collapse of plot credibility. Why would the "extremist slashers" want to unleash their genocidal plan on E2? Both revenge and the quest for real-estate are equally implausible as motivations. And the ending is scrappy.
A shame really - this had potential for audience crossover, but SF folk will like it, even those who hang out at /.
What have we here? Thin characterization, endless, tension-free chase sequences, and (surprisingly) lotsa pseudoscience. What I liked about Reynold's earlier work was the way he let nanotechnology, exotic-physics propulsion systems, and alien contact produce recognizably human cultural responses - but in "Century Rain" he's given us a mysterious, ancient "hyperweb" of wormholes interconnecting star systems throughout the galaxy, and it's the least interesting thing in the book! It barely figures in the plot except as an excuse to get us to and from the alternate history of "E2."
I dunno, man. Baxter's Manifold books did this better. Hell, even Carl Sagan did it better - and with less mumbo-jumbo around the physics of it.
Worse, Reynolds here commits the fatal error of cuteness. The wildly technophile Slasher culture derives its name and outlook from "a certain Web community of the late twentieth century" (ack), and there are at least three gratuitous in-jokes turning on famous lines from "Casablanca" - "stick my neck out," "beautiful friendship," and "Paris." (Don't get me wrong: I adore "Casablanca," but this ain't the place to celebrate it.)
In summary: this almost feels like a piece of juvenilia acquired and published after the success of the "Revelation Space" books. I'm not ready to write Reynolds off just yet, but I'm afraid "Century Rain" has knocked him off my auto-buy list.
In Century Rain, I can say unreservedly that his spectacular hard-SF imagination is as evident as in his earlier books. That said, some of Reynolds's weaknesses remain: this book is as long as the earlier ones, and I rather think each of his novels would have been better at 3/4 the length or less. His prose is serviceable but not really elegant. His characters (with a couple of exceptions) are fairly stock. But that is -- well, not quibbling, but acknowledging weaknesses that are not fatal weaknesses. So -- acknowledging its weaknesses, I still enjoyed this novel, and I was often fascinated, by the end quite moved, and occasionally awed.
The story begins on two threads. One concerns Wendell Floyd, an American in Paris in 1959. But his Paris is rather altered: its technology lags our own 1959 just a bit, apparently because World War II never happened: the German advance on France stalled in the Ardennes, and Hitler was shortly later deposed. But the evils of fascism were not eliminated, and France in 1959 seems ready to come under the sway of a nasty nativist politician. Floyd is a sometime jazz musician who mainly works as a private detective, and he is drawn into investigating the mysterious death of an American woman, a death the police seem only too quick to write off as an accident or suicide.
Meanwhile, three centuries in the future -- our actual future, it seems -- Verity Auger is an expert on Paris in the "Void Century": the 21st Century. It seems that late in this century something called the Nanocaust wiped out life on Earth. Humans survived in orbit, and have split into two groups: the Threshers (including Verity) oppose almost all nanotech and bodily modification, while the Slashers embrace it. The two are close to fighting a war over possession of Earth. Then Verity is maneuvered into accepting a strange assignment: wormhole travel back to Paris in 1959. It seems another Thresher agent has just been murdered, and Verity must try to recover some valuable information she had gathered.
Obviously, the Earth to which Verity is traveling is Wendell Floyd's Earth, and the murdered Thresher agent is the woman whose death Floyd is investigating. Wendell and Verity cross paths, and sparks fly, as we might (being experienced readers) expect. Their romance is a bit underplayed, and not quite convincing. But they also uncover a series of mysteries, involving the Thresher/Slasher war, factions among the Slashers, and some really bad guys, including some nasty apparent children. And they learn the true nature of Floyd's alternate Earth (which reminded me oddly of Robert Charles Wilson's Spin). The resolution of these SFnal ideas is pretty cool for the most part. The driving motivations of the bad guys, however, are never quite real -- they are just a bit too genocidal for no terribly good reason. But the story does come to a satisfyingly exciting close, and Floyd and Auger's personal story is well resolved as well. It's a good book, not a great one, but certainly it serves notice that Reynolds remains a writer to watch.
I don't EXPECT an A.R. novel to be a literary masterpiece. I am not sure I would know one even if I read it (unless some high brow told me it was one!).. I am simply looking for a story that makes sense, leads me into situations and worlds that I would not be able to imagine, that creates technologies and cultures that take me away from the "9 to 5", and makes me yearn to know what will happen next.
I am a simple guy, not primarily looking for similarities and comparisons, not looking to make judgements on everything from writing style to plot holes. ... just whether I enjoyed the ride for a few days
Century Rain did it for me in spades. The concept of E2 leads to far more possibilities and questions than one book could hope to cover, and surely that in itself is enough to suggest the basic idea behind the book was brilliant? That is why the ending, with a raft of possible options for Reynolds to pick, was so enjoyable.
Yes, the pacing is patchy, there may be a few too many clichés, and "phew" that was TOO close" moments, but that is what happened in THIS story.
References to "Casablanca"? They are only relevant if you know Casablanca intimately enough to recognise any homage. Sorry I missed them guys, but what the hell, it did not lead to a lessening of the enjoyment of this novel.... Just the reverse, by the sounds of it !
Poor ending ?. Not in the version of the book I read. With all the negative feedback on Reynolds endings, you now tend to reach the last few pages of his books with a sense of "oh, boy, we are getting close to the point where he whole of the rest of the book will be judged". I have to say I thought the ending was superb. No story wraps itself up perfectly and in my mind, if it does, it lessens itself greatly. This story ending was a more than adequate "warm down" .. and left me to ask questions and continue to think about what the characters might have done in the future.
I am not criticising anyone who Is able to pull apart a book like this, spot every failing, cliché, or inanity, but I would suggest that the idea behind this sort of book is to suspend belief and lose yourself for a few days... and that is why I will continue to buy all of A.R. books..... some of which, surprise surprise, are better than others
Add into the mix Verity Auger, an archaeologist and expert on the original Paris, France, and Wendell Floyd, a private detective native to the duplicate Earth who was hired to investigate a murder that is somehow tied to the thickening plot against this world, and what you have is another well-written tale about the distant future of humanity by Alistair Reynolds.
Century Rain's plot flows really well and moves along quickly, never feeling stilted or choppy. The duplicate, 1959 Earth is described in great detail. And, while some of the minor characters could have been fleshed out a bit more, the over all tale does not lack for personae that seem truly human.
The problem I have with this book is that the author does not go into enough detail about certain aspects of the universe he has created. For instance, those who survived the Nanocaust settled in orbiting environs and ultimately split into two primary factions. One faction, the Threshers, live in a near-Earth environment called Tanglewood. The other faction of humanity, the Slashers, settled farther out in the solar system and created the Polity. While there is some cursory detail about Tanglewood at the beginning of the tale, I would like to have been given much more information about what life was like in this place. After all, this place is a sort of banishment...forever living within reach of Earth, but barely able to touch it because of humanity's past crimes.
As for the Slasher's Polity, we get to find out what their position is on the matters at hand, but we never visit any of their outer-system colonies, we are never taken to any of their settlements. What is ordinary life like for this group, who, like the Threshers, are banished from Earth?
If Reynolds had elaborated on these entities more and better delineated the similarities and differences between them, it could have only enhanced the overall plot by showing what humanity has become along with what they have lost. I feel Reynolds missed a chance for vital comparisons between both Thresher and Slasher cultures and what is beyond reach in an Earth that will never be what it once was...humanity's home.
Also, while I don't want to reveal too much, I found it odd that Reynolds created a character in Verity Auger that encounters certain situations and rarely thinks of her two kids when deciding on the course of action for those situations. Would not her motherly instincts at least give her pause about what actions she deems appropriate in certain situations? Early on Auger admits to being a less-than-great mother, but shouldn't there have been some internal struggle, no matter how fleeting? Again, while I feel that Reynolds missed a chance for further depth in his story, this was the only blemish in a character, that at times, lit up the page.
While I believe these flaws detracted from the sheer depth of the over all story, I must give credit where credit is due. Reynolds has written another fine story that is extremely easy to read, and leaves you turning page after page until there are...alas...no more pages to turn.