by Alastair Reynolds
Science Fiction | 192 Pages | Published by Tachyon Publications in 2015
This book was received from Netgalley in return for an honest review
My impromptu novella season continues with Alastair Reynold’s great new sci-fi short, Slow Bullets. Having never read any work by Reynolds, Slow Bullets seemed like the perfect opportunity to dip my toe in the water and get a taste of what this prolific author is all about. This is a novella which reads like a memoir, has all the vision of a science fiction epic, and is crammed full of mystery and danger, leaving me in more than a little need of another Reynolds fix.
From the author of the Revelation Space series comes an interstellar adventure of war, identity, betrayal, and the preservation of civilization itself.
A vast conflict, one that has encompassed hundreds of worlds and solar systems, appears to be finally at an end. A conscripted soldier is beginning to consider her life after the war and the family she has left behind. But for Scur—and for humanity—peace is not to be.
On the brink of the ceasefire, Scur is captured by a renegade war criminal, and left for dead in the ruins of a bunker. She revives aboard a prisoner transport vessel. Something has gone terribly wrong with the ship.
Passengers—combatants from both sides of the war—are waking up from hibernation far too soon. Their memories, embedded in bullets, are the only links to a world which is no longer recognizable. And Scur will be reacquainted with her old enemy, but with much higher stakes than just her own life.
Slow Bullets follows the story of Scur, a soldier forced into service who, after a tortuous and almost fatal encounter with the enemy, awakens to find herself on a prison ship which by all appearances is adrift in space. Scur is not alone. Hundreds of detainees, soldiers who fought on both sides of the war, and crew members are waking up to an atmosphere of confusion, rivalry and tension to find that their ship may be little more than a glorified tomb. And time is running out.
In one short story, Reynolds manages to create a universe saturated with history; wars, conflict and religious feuds have had an indelible effect on the lives of those on board ship, and culture is made apparent through snippets of art and poetry which permeate the narrative. Slow Bullets stays clear of the hard science and presents a tense and plausible situation with little straying from the main narrative, spurring on the action and allowing the tale to unfold. This is a short, sharp and exciting read which appears to have a whole novel lurking beyond its pages.
Scur is perhaps not the most likeable of characters and although I sympathised with her situation, her hard edges barely weathered over the course of the narrative. She does however have a sense of realism in line with her situation which makes her a very convincing character to read. The multitude of side characters seemed almost like passing acquaintances by comparison, inspiring little in the way of emotional connection – though perhaps this is a reflection of Scur as narrator. However, this lack of connection allows for an element of mystery and intrigue to saturate the narrative and ultimately cast Scur in a more favourable light.
Alastair Reynolds has certainly proven himself to be a skilled storyteller; his writing manages to conjure up almost an entire Universe in surprisingly few pages and I was hooked from start to finish. I would perhaps have preferred a more climactic and action packed conclusion – this novella certainly has the potential to be a full-length novel – but the conclusion was ultimately satisfying and the writing was fast-paced and exciting throughout.
If you’re looking for an exciting and suspenseful science-fiction novella to slot into the busy holiday season then Slow Bullets is an excellent place to start. This might have been my first foray into the writings of Alastair Reynolds, but it certainly won’t be my last!