|Oh Campion! Oh Purslane! |
Oh do shut up.
- The plot is coherent; it flows well and is as accessible as a hard science fiction novel can be.
- The triple narrative, swapping between the perspectives of the two co-habiting shatterlings (clones of an original galactic pioneer, who travel the galaxy individually, collecting space junk and stories to share at their once-a-circuit meetings – approximately every 200,000 years or so) and the Gentian Line founder, Abigail Gentian, is interesting, not too upsetting and sets a sound if prosaic pace for development of said plot.
- The shatterlings’ big picture overview of the rise and decline of cultures provides an otherworldly quality to the proceedings, a good thing in sci-fi.
- The plot is not that intricate – or rather is a bit opaque and leaden, paced sluggishly and slightly guilty of the occasional info-dump to fill gaps; it’s not all that persuasive and doesn't really tie in every last little thing into one I-can’t-believe-it-WOW blockbuster of intrigue and suspense. The pace does pick up but it starts slowly and occasionally loses focus.
- None of the characters (the archivists of The Vigilance aside) convey that menace that a good helping of hubris adds to an ideal far-future de-humanised human. Despite acting like disinterested and benign god-like creatures, the Gentian Line (and the other Houses) really lack a bit of self-interested viciousness, but are also too mundane, worrying about daft little things like being late, not keeping promises and sleeping with each other. The de-familiarization of the familiar, whilst pushing at my suspension of disbelief in terms of temporal scale, is absent from characters like Campion and Purslane, our two shatterling protagonists; they are just too dull and ordinary, despite the fantastical setting. Compare to the artificial intelligences of Banks’ Culture novels of which one can never be sure they’re not planning to instigate genocide just for fun. Compare with Marrow and that feeling that there is an incomprehensible terror lurking in the background just waiting to swallow us all up. The whole thing is missing a Machiavellian mind that even Asher’s Orbus manages.
- There’s far too much guff and not enough stuff. The good things aren't explored anywhere near fully enough for my liking – inter-House intrigue, the restrictions on relationships – and there are some rather clunky guffy things like synchromesh that just don’t gel, exciting as they might be.