In the 23rd century, Earth is a barren world, rendered uninhabitable nearly two centuries before by the Nanocaust, a global catastrophe of our own making. Now under the surface of the Martian moon Phobos a wormhole is discovered that links us to Earth. Well...not quite. This Earth was never touched by the Nanocaust. In fact, on this doppelganger of humanity's birth it is not even the 23rd century. The year is 1959. And forces are beginning to coalesce against its unwitting inhabitants; a swirling maelstrom whose heart is in Paris, France. These forces may end up leading this Earth down a similar, apocalyptic path to the original.
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.