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Chasm City - Alastair Reynolds

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Author: Alastair Reynolds / Genre: Sci-Fi / Fantasy

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    2 Reviews
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      21.10.2008 12:04
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      A really convincing and engaging Space Opera.

      Chasm City might be called book 1.5 in the Revalation Space saga. That's not to say it's any less of a good read than the others in the series - far from it - but its action is independent from the others, and doesn't really advance the overarching narrative very much.

      This one is written in the first person, the narrator a hardboiled space assassin/bodyguard named Tanner Mirabel. Mirabel is carrying out a vendetta against the aristocratic Reivich, who is responsible for the death of his boss and his boss's wife, with whom Mirabel had something of a thing going.

      Mirabel travels across the galaxy to pursue his prey, and along the way becomes infected with a memetic virus that causes him to have beatific visions of the life of his colony's founder, Sky Haussman - and his story provides the secondary narrative as Mirabel slips into 3rd person reveries - often at rather innopportune moments.

      Once he has arrived in Chasm City, an immense megapolis polarised into the urban mulch, inhabited by mutants and poor folk, and the aristocratic canopy, he finds his hunt for Reveich distracted by his involvement in a local "Hard Target" - style safari, where he becomes the prey for local aristos in a deadly game...and then the plot gets really complex as all the strands begin to converge.

      Chasm City is a very enjoyable book, and Reynolds handles the complexity of his plot well. This time his dialogue is spot on (although everyone still sounds very English) and he is careful not to let the pace drop - as happened in the middle of Revalation Space.

      The milieu is well-drawn and largely original, although the pig-men and tiger-women feel a bit pulpy, and descriptions of Chasm City itself sometimes feel a bit Bladerunnerish.

      The book can be read at any point in the series, but you'll get more from it if you read it just after the first book.

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        09.12.2002 17:37
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        I reviewed Alastair Reynolds first book 'Revelation Space' some while ago and have updated that opinion to get it noticed again, it should be sitting just behind this one in my profile. I have done this for two reasons; I thought that people might want to read reviews of both books by the same reviewer back to back and I hoped that the first review would pick up some more reads. All I've done to the updated version is correct a few typos. I titled the first review 'A Revelation in Sci Fi writing? Nearly' and am now confident that this, second book in the series fulfils that earlier promise. Reynolds has achieved what so many fail to do or overdo a sense of completeness and reality in a purely fictional world. There's something about the classic 'sense of wonder' science fiction adventure that really appeals to me. I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction, in fact apart from the academic reading I do for my degree when I read it's for escapism. Every now and then I'll get hooked on a certain idea or return to one I've examined before and read a lot of stuff based around that, I had a mild fascination with various things physiological for a while probably stemming from my sporting interests, I have a continuing interest in cognitive science (and AI) and return to reading about it from time to time but by far my first love is fantasy writing. Fortunately for me there is a lot of very good quality writing in this genre available. Admittedly there's a lot of complete rubbish, I can't name it on here to be fair but go into any book shop and flick through enough books and there'll be some complete rubbish. A title by a young person who got Daddy's contacts at the publishing house to accept it is recently on his second volume... I've probably said too much already. Anyway in an effort to branch out, and partly at the behest of my book club, I started reading Alastair Reynolds. His first book; Revel
        ation Space was a fantastic success and, harking back to my opening gambit, married the classic sense of wonder, continual discovery with hardcore science fiction space opera. By 'sense of wonder' I mean this: In a science fiction book it is common to introduce fantastical things, aliens, technologies, artefacts, space ships, cultures whatever. It is not uncommon, in all fiction writing, to gradually make the reader aware of more and more detail as the plot thickens, this has the dual purpose of drawing you in and controlling plot pace. In some books, often in the older more 'classical' science fiction, this gradually discovery of details and information for the reader is simultaneous with the discovery of the same information for the lead character or characters. This, when done well, reinforces the imagery and makes the reader feel more part of the story, you are trying to work out the mystery at the sae time as, and with the same information as, the characters. Alastair Reynolds does this very well in Chasm city. Chasm city, although set in the same universe as Revelation Space, and here I mean universe in two ways firstly in the usual sense, our present universe a few hundred years into the future, and secondly in the book sense, the same events have taken place in both books, is almost a stand alone story. You could happily read Chasm City without having read Revelation Space, there are a few references you'll miss and a few links that'll pass you by but seeing as you won't be conscious of them you won't miss them. The story told in this book and the main characters it involves are totally new. Chasm City follows the story of the hero, Tanner Mirabel, as he slowly regains his memory after reefer sleep. Reefer sleep is a form of cryogenic near stasis that passengers on long haul space flights undergo. In a galaxy colonised by humanity, even in only a small patch, the separation between systems becomes s
        uch that to travel between them at a decent fraction of the speed of light results in your time relativistically being compressed compared to the time on the worlds you are travelling between thus fifteen years can pass on one flight in which you age very little (even less when in reefer sleep). A by product of reefer sleep is temporary amnesia and so begins our hero's story. The book is written in segments, following the hero in his present and then in his past via flashback episodes, the book also follows some other things due to drug induced illness and hallucinations. These segments are arranged in such a way that as the hero pieces together the details of his life so do you and in doing so draw conclusions with or opposed to his. This is the first layer of Reynolds' sense of wonder technique. As well as the gradual building of a mans life the book has a fast thriller/ action plot wrapped around a mystery. As we follow the main characters they discover more about their predicaments and surroundings. Chasm City is an unusual book in that the plot unfolds before you, literally, you know no more about what is going on than you have been told. In most stories you can extrapolate, the Lord of the rings for example; you know, even after reading only a little, that the book is going to be about the actions taken regarding the ring, whether successful or not. Chasm city doesn't have this. From one moment to the next for the first three quarters of the story you really don't know what is going to unwind. Towards the end as things start to fall into place you can begin to make projections but by that point the plot is at fever pitch and you literally can't help but get drawn along. Reynolds writing is excellent, he has an unusual style which it takes a little while to get used to but once you have it tears along. The mixture of episodes from past, present and hallucination means that he can crank up the tension, the present is windin
        g up to a mini climax and a resolution or discovery you've been reaching towards and then he starts the next section as a flashback. These sections are always relevant to each other, there's always more of a connection than simple narrative necessity and this adds further depth to a very sophisticated piece of writing. Behind all of the technology and indeed a lot of the plot details there is a vast amount of research and/r prior knowledge. Dealing with the projected physics of the 28th century in a way that feels realistic and doesn't have logical holes, meaning that it must be consistent both with current physics and with itself, cannot be easy and yet Reynolds, as all good writers manage, makes it seem effortless. As I wrote in my first review: 'There isn't tortuous justification of science fiction and reality Reynolds merely lets his setting support itself as he writes, obviously equipped with the ideas necessary to fill out the backdrop.' and its true of this book just as much if not more so. The thing that makes this book really stand out is the setting. A futuristic city falling into decay, or fallen, once so successful that the people who lived at the time called it the Belle Époque themselves, now less than a shadow of its former self. Reynolds makes the city come alive in all its hideous detail, the corruption, the dichotomy between the rich struggling to re-attain the fantastic standard of living that once was available to them and the poor, a new level of society in a city where once everyone was successful, scraping a subsistence living in the mulch, the deepest underbelly. Imagine the scenes from Blade Runner and then add extra detail, realism and a few million pounds of movie budget spent only on sets, that's the city Reynolds writes about and so well that I feel that I have walked it's streets and flown in the traffic flows and looked down over the Chasm from some lofty pinnacle. If anyone reading this has eve
        r heard of Shadowrun (a roleplay game) this would make the perfect Shadowrun setting, for those people who haven't (most of you I imagine) it is set on a future Earth where corporations own and run the world for their own financial gain. The important thing being the mood; reading the book there is very little reference to the feel of the place, the characters emotions tend to be based around their immediate situations and the plot more than their surroundings but with the depth of description, not long passages but layered detail, a bit slipped in here and a bit there, the reader can feel the she knows what it feels like to stand in the same place as the characters. The writing encourages you t fill in details yourself, not explicitly but you find yourself doing it accidentally, you place architecture you are familiar with over the top of Reynolds' descriptions, the derelict building at the end of town becomes the warehouse that the characters are hiding behind or whatever. The third book in this series has been written, its called 'Redemption Ark' and starts to pull threads from the first two books together much more. This book stands alone and is neither weaker nor stronger for it. A very accomplished work, Reynolds has fulfilled and surpassed the promise of his first book and continues to develop his complex ideas gradually seducing your conscious into his intricately woven world.

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