Alastair Reynolds’ Blue Remembered Earth is a novel which asks some deep questions about itself. Rather than reflecting on the deeps of space or identity, Blue Earth Remembered is about questioning whether we are ready to go forwards though with the implication that race may be forced into that direction.
As the next century comes to an end, the interstellar race has hardly begun. China has a strong presence in space and Africa is on the verge of joining them, following on from the direction taken by Ian McDonald in his recent trilogy which focuses on the developing world and possibly Chris Roberson whose Celestial Empire series explored a non-European space.
Eunice Akinya has travelled to the edges of space and come back to Africa. After her death, her grandchildren, who have rebelled against the family, follow some intergenerational clues to her final story. Her cousins raises the that their help in deciphering these clues and in tracking the objects down. Sunday, her granddaughter, travels to the Evolvarium, a crater where machines have evolved and mutated. She finds the casket which she hid, but cannot find the contents. Instead she finds that her grandfather is very much alive and has the original helmet which was believed to be missing. Meanwhile her brother finds a glove in a safety deposit box and has to follow the mathematical clues to begin his journey into the unknown and impossible. With his cousins providing some financing on his own beloved elephant project, he discovers that sometimes blood is not thicker than water.
Space Opera normally assumes that humanity is in the stars in and is comfortable with this. The society is an advanced one with a Culture style guardian called the Mechanists watching over it, preventing it from war after the Resource wars, which we assume were fairly apocalyptic. When Geoffrey tries to hit his cousin in anger, he finds that the Mechanists take violence seriously and has to escape from Earth. This sense of the implicit threat is kept in the geometric patterns found on the Mandala which, as yet, are undeciphered. Rather than there being an alien intelligence that may be malevolent or not, Reynolds leaves it pregnant for us and perhaps future books.
A strong argument can be made by quoting New Model Army’s ‘Vanity’ (off the Purity album), that we are, in strict biological terms, “clever monkeys with technology, barely out of the caves and the trees”. Although the technology has been created, Reynolds explores whether the race is ready to really expand out of our universe and into interstellar space. As the unseen narrator shows, it is the cleverness that has brought us to the point of being able to travel into space but only cleverness which will allow anyone to survive in what is alien territory. Geoffrey’s bonding with the elephants is subtle warning that not all species will see us as we see ourselves, or will understand us in a different light.
The changing context, the lack of an immediate fix, is apparent. If the 1950s vision of space and human travel was somehow and Uplift was going to be a golden age, space now is Hobbesian: life is short and brutal. Space has become the final frontier again, a wild expanse. Some of can be traversed using the family ties and a keen sense of humanity and it possbilities.
Using space opera, Reynolds has taken it back to basics and set up a generational set of stories which will show us how big it really is. Blue Earth Remembered enacts the periodic reboot of Space Opera, taking it back to its basics and asking questions about the sub-genre. Reynolds finds a way of the making the vastness imaginable and plausible with a cold logic and a warm humanity.
The world itself is on a cusp.