Reader, if we’ve ever talked about books (and if we speak long enough, the topic will be raised), then you know my favorite hard sci-fi author is a gentleman named Alastair Reynolds. As is my custom with all novels I love, I usually end up yelling at his books from at least the halfway point to the final chapter. Most of his works contain multiple storylines that appear to be completely unrelated, but are later revealed to be interconnected, usually with infuriatingly good execution.
I own copies of everything he’s published to date except his latest, which I debated about internally for some time, as two-thirds of the short stories complied there were originally collected in earlier works. Ultimately (and very recently), I decided that seven new Reynolds stories is more than worth the full cost of a book. And I just learned today that two brand-new novels will be coming to my doorstep very soon! Huzzah!
I’ve had his novel Revenger for well over a year, although it’s only been published in the US since February (if being able to purchase novels several months before they appear in the States appeals to you, check out this site. They’re based in the UK and offer free shipping with no minimum order. I’ve used them numerous times, and they’re great). I began reading it back in June, and scrouged through about 30 pages before I stopped. Then I moved on to other novels and didn’t pick Revenger up again for weeks.
Things continued that way month after month. I’d open the book, determined to read at least two chapters, but then quit three or four pages in.
I’m a completist; I couldn’t completely abandon the book once I’d started, but I also felt increasingly guilty when I ignored it in favor of another title. I finished Revenger this morning, having read about 350 pages in the past week. It’s not a boring story. It’s not poorly written. It just…didn’t have that Alastair Reynolds-yness that I’ve come to prize as the standard for hard sci-fi. I could predict the plot twists from pretty far off, which was new. The soundtrack to Joseph Reading This Book was essentially a few hours of:
“OK. And then they’re gonna [a plot point].”
“I bet it’ll turn out that she’s actually [another character].”
“Aaaaaaand now of COURSE her sister is going to [verb].”
“Oh, and here’s the part where their plans fails because of [logical conclusion].”
While writing this post, I discovered that Gollancz, Reynolds’s UK publisher, considers Revenger to be his first YA novel. The covers and copyrights pages do not indicate that it’s intended for younger readers, and perhaps not being the target audience has affected my experience.
But good fiction is about the path, and as I delved further in, I found myself wanting to spend more time with the novel. It wasn’t because I particularly liked the characters,–Prozor seemed like a grumpy version of Pepper from Becky Chambers’s fantastic Wayfairers series–but because despite knowing what’s behind the door, sometimes the anticipation remains palpable if the craftwork is skillful enough, predictability and all.
My conclusion: Just as the Star Wars prequels are still Star Wars films, a not-great Reynolds book is still a Reynolds book, and therefore a bet worth taking.