"House of Suns" by Alastair Reynolds (2008)
"With that, Jynx climbed into his craft and sped away in a flicker of mechanical wings. The flier lifted from the platform and headed in the same general direction, back to the city, where it would wait until the break of day. Purslane and I stood together and watched the two dots diminish until they were no longer distinguishable from the sky"
Alastair Reynolds has a PhD in Astronomy, lives in the Netherlands, and has written many science fiction novels. House of Suns is the first of his books I've read, but I've also read some of his short stories in The Year's Best Science Fiction collections.
In this novel, a pair of clones travel across the galaxy, eventually uncovering a secret that shakes their society to its very foundations. Various worlds are visited, robots scheme and plot revenge, and occasionally (very occasionally) something interesting happens.
In-between those interesting moments the characters talk, and talk, and talk, and talk, and between events of actual significance there are strange interludes where daily chores are described in detail, and where characters of secondary importance are given more emphasis than they ought to have. Add to this the most convoluted, nonsensical, and altogether mystifying torture scene* I've ever come across, in any book or movie anywhere, and that pretty much sums of House of Suns. And while it might not be as tedious as Eon, another book previously reviewed here, it's definitely tedious, and moreover tedious from beginning to end.
One of the most irritating things about this book is its inability (or unwillingness) to speculate upon the technologies it introduces. The author's use of scientific concepts is certainly consistent, but he dumbs-down the science for the sake of the narrative, and the result is something that manages to make even Star Wars look like "hard sci-fi."
Another shortcoming is the completely arbitrary way in which the plot unfolds. Things just happen, without any regard for previous developments or "rules" set up in earlier parts of the novel. It's a lot like hearing a seven year old make up a story: "Oh, and then, and then, the robots aren't really our friends, ok? Because a long time ago this other thing happens, and what they really want to do is..."
You get the picture. And of course the result of all this arbitrariness is that the characters lose any consistency built up beforehand. We're left with a menagerie of overly polite, somewhat British, cardboard cut-outs discussing seemingly important events that we never "witness," all leading to some kind of conclusion that few will find engaging.
Alastair Reynolds? This is the first of his books I've read, and it will, most likely, be the last.
*That torture scene? They take panes of a transparent material and section the person being interrogated. Even though separated into thousands of sections by this material, the person being interrogated continues to function normally, without any real sense of discomfort. It's a lot like that scene with the horse in the 2000 movie The Cell, but that scene was, of course, a dream in the killer's mind.