The Six Directions of Space

Every time there's a discussion regarding the best science fiction authors out there, Alastair Reynolds' name is usually found alongside his upper echelon peers, writers such as Peter F. Hamilton, Greg Bear, Ian McDonald, Iain M. Banks, and Richard Morgan. Though I own three or four of Reynolds' novels, to my shame I have to admit that I have yet to give the author a shot.

Hence, when I received this limited edition novella from Subterranean Press, I realized that this was the perfect opportunity for me to get acquainted with Alastair Reynolds' style. And if The Six Directions of Space is any indication, I will certainly be reading more of Reynolds' works on the future.

A female spy operating under the codename Yellow Dog is sent to the far reaches of the enormous Mongol-ruled galactic empire to investigate strange anomalies occurring near the end of civilised space. Phantom spacecrafts have appeared in the spacefaring conduits which are the transit system binding the empire together. This covert operation takes Yellow Dog to a distant autonomous zone under the control of a local tyrant who doesn't seem to care much for the central government. When her cover is blown and she is captured, Yellow Dog finds herself disavowed by her superiors. From her captor, Yellow Dog is shocked to discover that they know more about the anomalies than she thought possible. When one of the phantom ships is retrieved, revelations will force Yellow Dog to accept the fact that reality as she knows it could well be an illusion.

I was impressed with the worldbuilding in The Six Directions of Space. Indeed, this novella resounds with as much depth as most novel-length science fiction works. The intergalactic Mongolian empire was a nice twist and an interesting change from the habitual genre stereotypes. The ancient khorkoi, the Infrastructure, the Shining Caliphate, the Smiling Ones -- this 88-page novella packs a powerful punch!

I was also impressed with Reynolds' characterization. Although the format precluded much depth in that regard, the author nevertheless came up with an engaging cast with Yellow Dod, Qilian, and Muhunnad.

The Six Directions of Space is hard to put down. Don't be surprised if you reach the end of this novella in a single sitting.

Though I thoroughly enjoyed this one, I can't help but feel that there's more than enough material here to fill an entire novel. This short novella keeps you begging for more.

This introduction to Alastair Reynolds' work has made quite an impression on me. Hopefully the rest of his books will now live up to these lofty expectations.

The final verdict: 7.75/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

2 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

I'm a big fan of Mr. Reynolds' fiction, and especially his short fiction, so I had made sure to pick up the Galactic Empires anthology where this was originally published.

I think you're onto something when you say that ". . .I can't help but feel that there's more than enough material here to fill an entire novel," because I had actually been disappointed in the story.

And the reason I think is probably that while the framework is almost unimaginably ambitious, due to the constraints space presented by the novella that Dozois contracted, Reynolds was unable to present either the worlds or the characters with the depth that a reader needs to feel fully engaged.

The scope of the story is huge, alright, but the spaces in between are often nondescript. Reading, I simply felt that the story and the settings were not as fleshed out as they should have been.

Again, this may not have been all Reynolds' fault, and for all I know he has plans to expand the novella at some later date, but for right now, while I can recommend a bunch of Alastair Reynolds' short fiction--"Galactic North" and "Zima Blue" and "The Sledge-maker's Daughter," "Beyond the Aquila Rift" and even an internet freebie like "Fresco" are all about as good as you're going to read--"The Six Directions of Space" just isn't up to his usual standards.

Adam Whitehead said...

Good stuff Pat. For his novel-length stuff I'd recommend Chasm City and Pushing Ice before leaping into the big trilogy (Revelation Space, Redemption Ark, Absolution Gap).

His Zima Blue collection is being given a mass-printing by Gollancz in the UK in 2009 as well.