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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds

Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds. New York: Ace Books, 2004. ISBN: 0-441-01290-6

It's interesting now that the Library of Congress (LC) has started assigning subject headings to fiction, something they haven't always done, to see just what the cataloger who worked on a particular book thinks it was about. The subject headings assigned to this book are 1. Women archaeologists—Fiction and 2. Time travel—Fiction. I guess that's accurate so far as it goes, which isn't very far.

If I were assigning headings, I'd have assigned “nanotechnology” probably before I assigned time travel, and besides, it isn't really time travel in the classic sense anyhow. It's an alternate earth in which World War II never happened taken on forward into the 1950's. Paris is the primary scene for most of the action.

Back in the “real” world, a couple of hundred years into the future from now, uncontrolled and uncontrollable nanotechnology has destroyed the earth, rendered it uninhabitable. People live in space habitats, and on Mars. But not on earth. So the discovery of this alternate world, just sitting there, ripe for the taking, incites greed in at least some people. War erupts.

But all of this description fails to do the book any justice. The story alternates between characters living in the real and alternate worlds. Eventually some folks, including our woman archaeologist, manage to travel between them. I'm not sure why LC didn't assign headings like 3. Male detectives—Fiction or 4. Jazz musicians—fiction since our second main character is both of those things, although it's primarily in his detective role that he inhabits our story. He's a man of 1959 Paris, trying to solve a strange murder, encountering folks visiting from the alternate future.

That still fails to do the story justice. Suffice it to say that the technology and the science are fairly complicated, but the characters are depicted very much as real people, and the suspense is real. The story has elements of mystery and suspense woven into a science fiction context. On a scale of 1-10, I'd give it about a 6 or 7. Not the best, but not the worst, by far. Recommended for sf genre fans.

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