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Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days

by Alastair Reynolds

(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 cover scanthat '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 Binary 6 -- will be in competition for readers who don't want to own 'Diamond Dogs' in duplicate.

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 no favours.

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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