I’m just gonna come out and say it: I was doomed to have a complicated relationship with Blue Remembered Earth from the get go. Africa has never been a continent to hold much fascination for me, for whatever reason; but I have, by the same token, known so many warm, humorous, and friendly African folks that I sort of automatically get the warm fuzzies when I hear an African accent. I’m aware that it is in a great many place an area in which we have an unfortunate mingling of modern technology and tribal ideologies; but, as a student of Church history, I expect a great many missionaries to be coming to the West from Africa in the mid-range future to be doing the work that the church in the West is no longer capable of doing due to the collapse of our civilization.
But I digress.
The cognitive dissonance flows nearly as strongly with Alastair Reynolds: He disappoints me probably 80-90% of the time. Revelation Space was okay. Redemption Ark thrilled me until he suddenly reneged on something that he seemed to be clearly laying out for most of the book. House of Suns was wonderful. Terminal World cut off right when it got interesting, and Pushing Ice just sort of stopped instead of giving us any sort of ending. But somehow, despite his track record with me, I keep buying his books. (Admittedly, Blue Remembered Earth was again me looking for a long book that would give me bang for my Audible buck.)
Blue Remembered Earth takes place in the 2160s in a post-climate change future dominated largely by Africa and Asia. Africa’s ascendancy is due in no small part to the exploits of Eunice Akinya, a woman whose space exploration exploits ultimately lead to the rise of Akinya Aerospace, a huge corporation with installations from Mercury all the way out to the Kuiper Belt. Eunice is a crotchety sort of old woman who reminds me a bit of The Expanse‘s Chrisjen Avasarala– a good thing in my book– but Blue Remembered Earth isn’t actually her story; It’s her grandchildren’s. The novel begins, more or less, with Eunice’s funeral.
Most of the novel is a scavenger hunt across the solar system. Geoffrey Akinya, a researcher working on elephant cognition, is bribed into checking into a safety deposit box Eunice left on the moon by his cousins, Hector and Lucas, the de facto heads of Akinya Aerospace. There’s no love lost between the brothers and Geoffrey and the business relationship is rocky from the start. But when Geoffrey’s sister, Sunday, gets involved, things only get rockier. Inside the safety deposit box is a puzzle: an old-fashioned space suit glove stuffed with fake gems, the first in a long line of clues that will wind up dragging the reader across the solar system, all while Geoffrey and Sunday are trying to hide their activity from the other Akinyas and, when that fails, trying to stay one step ahead of them.
Blue Remembers Earth has shades of a “grand tour” novel or an Indiana Jones-style adventure. We go from Africa to the moon to Mars to an underwater city and the Kuiper belt, always chasing after Eunice’s clues. Reynolds’ solar system is well developed and interesting– as it should be. Reynolds is really pretty fantastic at world building, and Blue Remembered Earth is no exception to that. The book is an interesting glimpse of a solar system dominated by non-Western forces. Where he’s iffy, though, is with his characters, and that’s where Blue Remembered Earth really struggled for me.
As much as I liked our glimpses of Eunice (primarily through an AI emulation), most of her grandchildren were lackluster. Sunday was fairly forgettable. Geoffrey flat out annoying. Hector and Lucas are mostly just sort of antagonistic, but I had the creeping suspicion through most of the book that Geoffrey was just a jackass and I really should’ve been rooting for the cousins that spend the whole book making him miserable. Needless to say, hating the main character makes the book something of a difficult read (or listen).
I’m not sure how I feel about the actual plot structure; I kept wondering why Eunice would go through so much trouble just to leave a trail of clues throughout the solar system. This is space we’re talking about here, and even in 2160 (let alone the 2130’s, when Eunice was leaving her clues) travel between the planets isn’t trivial. It seems like a lot of hassle to go through, especially considering that as a “test,” it could’ve been more logically (and probably more easily) done via an AI emulation– which, incidentally, happens more than once over the course of the chase. There are at least two places where an AI emulation of Eunice is waiting to test Sunday or Geoffrey before the next clue is revealed.
There were two things about Blue Remembered Earth that I really did appreciate quite a bit: One, there’s a definite sense of hope. As much as I disliked Geoffrey, the book shows us a future where people care about going to space and where society actually attempts to deal with problems instead of regressing from them. Global warming, for instance, caused troubles, but was ultimately dealt with by human ingenuity and perseverance.
Second, unlike so many of Reynolds’ books, Blue Remembered Earth actually has a climax. The novel doesn’t just stop. And the secret hiding at the end of Eunice’s scavenger hunt was both satisfyingly world-shaking and hard science fictional. It reminded me, in a strange way, of a certain reveal in John C. Wright’s The Golden Age.
I don’t know if I can heartily recommend Blue Remembered Earth. I didn’t hate by any means, but it also didn’t rock my world. It was probably a little better than average, I suppose. Good enough that I’ll probably find a reason to pick up its sequel, but I think that how much you enjoy the book is going to depend on how you feel about Alastair Reynolds.