Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days
(Gollancz, £6.99, 231 pages, hardback, both novellas first published
in slightly different versions in 2002, this edition published 13 February
2003. Gollancz, £5.99, 231 pages, paperback, published 9 October 2003.)
A brace of novellas from Alastair Reynolds is here presented, in an
attractive hardback volume, at a price to beat many paperback novels.
It's an unusual move considering Binary 6 -- will be in competition for readers who don't want
to own 'Diamond Dogs' in duplicate.
'Diamond Dogs' is liable to be published in the next 'Binary' paperback,
but since Gollancz is responsible for publishing both this book and
the 'Binary' series, one imagines some sort of reshuffle is on the cards.
The alternative is that Reynolds' novella will shortly be in high-street
competition with itself, or rather that its co-stars -- 'Turquoise Days'
here, and from the look of it probably Adam Roberts' 'Park Polar' in
What we have here are two very different tales indeed. 'Diamond Dogs'
is first-person narrative, fast-moving, with short chapters and a claustrophobic
setting; 'Turquoise Days' is third-person, leisurely and long-chaptered,
albeit the shorter novella, and set against the wide open spaces of
an entire planet. The upshot is that 'Dogs' feels like a much faster
read than 'Days' by virtue of its pacy, punchy style, and sticks in
the mind for longer. This isn't, however, to say that 'Days' is a poor
tale, but it certainly pales by comparison. On paper, it must have seemed
an excellent idea to pair up such different pieces, the better to illustrate
the author's variety of range, but in practice it does the slow runner
Beneath the surface, 'Diamond Dogs' is actually a fairly conventional
tale -- a mysterious artefact invites explorers in, tests them with
puzzles (in, as is often the case, the universal language of mathematics),
and maims them when they slip up. Commendably, Reynolds isn't coy about
using such an old device, and slips in a couple of pertinent references
early on in the form of "training" for his characters, a nicely post-modern
touch. Once it gets underway, though, the adventure proper feels like
nothing so much as a computer game, with the penalties and difficulty
increasing and the available time decreasing with each successive challenge.
Luckily the plot isn't everything. The appeal of 'Dogs' is all in the
telling, and a large part of that is characterisation. Doctor Trintignant
in particular is a tour de force of amoral quirkiness, and pretty much
the essence of what I've come to expect from Reynolds' books. For the
rest, it's their interaction more than their individual personalities
that carries the story, helped along by a healthy dose of Gothic atmosphere.
'Turquoise Days' is far more a character piece, following Naqi Okpik's
career on the Pattern Juggler world of Turquoise, from minor surveyor
to overseer of one of the grandest ever scientific studies of Juggler
behaviour. She has a particular interest in the Jugglers, since her
beloved elder sister Mina was absorbed bodily into their debatably sentient
mass, but the arrival of a light-hugger full of demanding scientists
could jeopardise that interest ... In my view, 'Days' is the better
of the two pieces, although the first third is backstory, and only after
that does the tale really take off. I find the Pattern Jugglers among
the more intriguing of Reynolds' creations, probably because of the
paucity of information about them, and although it's nice to read a
story that focuses on the Jugglers, they're still something of an enigma
after the story's over. The plot is more engaging than the brevity of
the piece allows, and of the two novellas I'd say 'Days' has the greater
potential to be expanded into something richer. In this truncated form,
however, it's second fiddle to 'Diamond Dogs'.
'Diamond Dogs' will probably win with most readers, being the more
suited to the novella form, but 'Turquoise Days' deserves more of the
reader's attention, else it's in danger of being unjustly overlooked.
Review by John Toon.
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