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Century Rain

by Alastair Reynolds

(Gollancz, £14.99, 503 pages, hardback, published 25 November 2004. Gollancz, £6.99, 532 pages, paperback edition published 3 October 2005.)

Review by Simeon Shoul

In 1959 Paris, musician Floyd Wendell and his cover scanpartner, Custine, work as musicians and moonlight as detectives. It isn't an easy living, especially with the forces of Fascism, dormant since the defeat of Germany in 1940, on the rise again. Summoned to investigate the murder of a young woman, Susan White, in which the police show profound disinterest, he finds himself stumbling slowly into a world of bizarre behaviour, mysterious technology, and queasily evil people.

Meanwhile, in the mid-twenty-third century, Verity Auger, an ambitious archeologist, makes a lethal error as she leads her team in their investigations of a ruined Paris which lies under an ice-cap infested with murderous nano-tech. Hauled up before a disciplinary tribunal her prospects look bad, until some political acquaintances make a proposition; take a trip to an undisclosed destination and track down a fellow archeologist, by the name of Susan White, who's gone missing, and they'll kill the charges.

This is the intriguing opening of a solid, well crafted and at times very imaginative piece of science fiction. Initially it's the Floyd/1959 plot-line that feels more compelling; its challenges possess a veneer of contemporary realism that Auger's futuristic milieu doesn't quite have, but the weaving together of the two strands is deftly done. When the two stories meet and merge there are a couple of hundred pages of genuinely compelling prose.

This portion of the book, the middle, is the best bit, and the reason isn't hard to find. It's the bad guys. Reynolds has managed to create some thoroughly nasty little monsters, genuinely creepy and threatening, and consequently there's some really gripping tension.

It's not something that he can quite sustain, unfortunately, and the challenges of the last third of the book, though they are violent and explosively flashy, don't have the viscerally threatening, frightening, quality of what's gone before. Moreover, at this stage of the book Reynolds seems content to step away from Auger and Floyd as individuals, and watch them as a duo, from an external position, rather than dip into their heads and sample their emotions and perceptions from the inside. It's still good writing, but it lacks some of the intimacy of the earlier chapters.

Overall then, this is good work. Not top flight, but engaging, well-written, worth taking the time to read.

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