Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Down The Bright Way by Robert Reed

I am not ashamed.
This one almost slipped into an In-Betweeners review, harshly so, as it occurred in the space between Imperial Bedrooms and Houellebecq, but on reflection, I would be doing Reed and indeed science fiction a discourtesy by paying only cursory attention to what is in fact a rather good novel.

Sci-Fi - and its cousin Fantasy - too often gets a raw deal. If you can ignore far future science (or in the case of fantasy, magic) and strip back the improbable metallurgy and ample-chested warrior vixens, you will usually (although not always) find a story as engaging as any in the realms of literary, mass market or any other fiction sub-genre. Plus, you get improbable metallurgy and ample-chested warrior vixens. What's not to love? Lack of realism? What about Garcia Marquez, Rushdie and Allende and their brand of magical realism, which is surely as difficult to believe as a woman who is over a million years old in a far-future multi-dimensional universe? Unknown science used to be labelled as magic after all, and who knows what the future may hold for an enquiring species such as ours.

Back to Reed specifically, and although not his strongest book in terms of readability (Marrow certainly tops the pile), Down The Bright Way is a perfectly plotted, thoughtfully composed story of benevolent humanoid races crossing dimensional barriers by the use of a pathway created (or not) by advanced but now absent and presumed benevolent "makers" to spread peace, bestow gentle technological advances, and attempt to track down those who may (or may not) have seeded humanity throughout the various universes. What this boils down to in reality is the story of a young man who wants to be something other than himself, a young girl whose youthful naivety bestows a furious curiosity, a man unsure of his own purpose and an old woman whose firmly held beliefs are tested in the face of compelling reasons to doubt them. Chuck in an errant sociopath and his loyal super-human sidekick and you've got a potent mix for cooking up a multi-stranded narrative that whizzes across space and time and, long boring passages inside the space-time-continuum-traversing device aside, keeps the interest high through 350 pages.

Iain M. Banks may sit smugly at the peak of space opera for the time being, but should Reed continue to impress (and could ramp up his productivity* without damaging his story-telling integrity) then he should be a worthy challenger to Banks' superiority. If you're not a genre fan, but are intrigued, I would advise just giving it a shot. What have you got to lose? Just read it at home where no-one can see you. I jest of course...

*Editor's note: Having researched Bob Reed a little more thoroughly of late (April 2013) it appears he is after all as productive as a bad cough, having written squillions of things over the years. A Billion Eves is a Hugo Award winning short story for example. Just so it looks like I've read it...

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