Blue Remembered Earth, Alastair Reynolds’ latest novel, is everything its mesmerizing title and equally captivating cover promises: a utopian science fiction novel showcasing an optimistic daydream of our future one hundred and fifty years from now, where our grandchildren have battled global warming head on and turned the world into a better place for all.
I say daydream because, ultimately, that is what Blue Remembered Earth is: Reynolds’ daydream of a future where Africa has become the dominant power, and crime, war, disease, poverty, and violence are a thing of the past. It is a future where our planet, now rendered more blue by the changing climate, is fading away on the horizon as mankind gradually explores new territories in outer space. In this fantasy of a brighter future, Reynolds holds nothing back. The reader is taken from one impossibly unrealistic place to another, from super slow robot wars on the dark side of the moon—seriously, who would be interested in robots fighting slower than the eye can see?—to underwater cities back on earth, where humans have genetically engineered themselves into mermaids and full-sized whales.
At the background of this exorbitant fantasy—almost as an excuse to write a book about his wildest dreams—Reynolds’ Blue Remembered Earth is about the African Akinya family and their hunt for truth. After the death of Eunice, his grandmother and the founder of the family dynasty, Geoffrey Akinya is reluctantly sent on a mission by his cousins—the new family patriarchs—to retrieve a mysterious box from the moon. What follows is a quest from Earth to the moon, to Mars, and back to Earth and the moon again to discover a vague and mysterious secret Eunice left behind, a secret that may change the world forever.
Don’t expect a wild and epic quest, though. While this quest could have been very interesting, the execution is poor at best. Think of Blue Remembered Earth as a Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code) thriller without the thrill. As in Brown’s books, Geoffrey’s quest leads him and his sister from one clue to the other, following a trail his deceased grandmother left behind. Unlike in Brown’s books, however, this quest is lacking in suspense and backbone, has some serious pacing issues—I put the book away many times because it was just too slow—and doesn’t offer anything in the way of pay-off. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of twists along the way, but a more perceptive reader will probably see each of them coming from miles away. The ending, too, is rather underwhelming.
This adventure is shown through the eyes of two incredibly well fleshed out but intensely annoying characters: Geoffrey Akinya and his sister Sunday. In them, Reynolds has created truly believable, ambiguous characters who are completely unfit for the action they are thrown into. Unfortunately, the realism of these characters is evidenced in a series of irking traits and the ability to make the worst decisions imaginable. If you are looking for heroes to root for and emotionally invest in, Blue Rememered Earth might not be the right book for you.
A marvelous world
Blue Remembered Earth isn’t all bad, though. Reynolds clearly had a singular reason for writing this book—showing an optimistic future—and he does that well. While I had personally hoped for more substance, I cannot deny that the utopian picture painted here is an intriguing one. I don’t think I have ever seen a book that put this much effort into world building, and the world revealed throughout the book is a world I would gladly live in. There are no holds barred in the detail with which this utopian future is laid out before us. This eye for detail, combined with some wonderful prose, makes a reader feel like he’s living in Reynolds’ future.
When all is said and done, Blue Remembered Earth holds plenty of promise but doesn’t cash in on most of it. It so obviously strives to be a philosophic exploration of a utopian future with themes of broadening horizons and the repercussions of technological advancement. Instead, these themes are lost in the underdeveloped story and poor narration, driven by the author’s own interventions to make a contrived, unrealistic treasure hunt seem realistic.
Why should you read this book?
If you wish to immerse yourself into a well-developed, brighter future, Blue Remembered Earth should be your next read. However, don’t read this book when you are looking for a good and entertaining story. Blue Remembered Earth is a slow quest with irritating characters, set in a marvelous future version of our world. I can only hope that Reynolds puts more thought into the story of the next volumes of the Poseidon’s Children trilogy. If that’s the case, I might even consider picking them up.