Cover illustration by Marc Simonetti
About the Book:
Alastair Reynolds has continued to publish short fiction throughout the thirty-odd years of his professional career. This fourth collection gathers material mostly written by the former space scientist in the last decade, even as a number of stories—such as the title piece, set in the universe of House of Suns—revisit earlier environments.
The scope of settings is wide, ranging from the contemporaneous Earth to the near future and out to the furthest realms of the galaxy, and taking in such diverse topics as the perils of immortality, cybernetic encounters in the Wild West, uncanny skateboard parks and the flocking behaviour of birds. There is horror here, but also hope—and not a little black humour.
The collection includes “Open and Shut,” “Night Passage,” and “Plague Music,” a long, previously unpublished story, all three set in the Revelation Space universe.
Table of Contents:
- Introduction: Winter Did Come
- Belladonna Nights
- Different Seas
- For the Ages
- Visiting Hours
- The Lobby
- A Map of Mercury
- Magic Bone Woman
- Wrecking Party
- Sixteen Questions for Kamala Chatterjee
- Death’s Door
- A Murmuration
- Open and Shut
- Plague Music
- Night Passage
- Story Notes
“Three stories set in the Revelation Space universe point to its dark and melancholy side. “Open and Shut” is not so much a story as a report on an incident in the career of Prefect Dreyfus, a window into some very unpleasant corners of the libertarian-democratic Glitter Band culture, where “do as thou wilt” collides with necessary limitations, hard choices, and harder punishments. Dreyfus’s somber summing up: “If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that there’s always something worse.” The previously unpublished “Plague Music” features elements of horror, both in the details of the Melting Plague that will eventually destroy the Glitter Band and in the Poe-esque viewpoint character, whose backstory is only fully revealed after he has perpetrated his individual horrors. “Night Passage”, set in a different part of the Revelation Space future, is a merely grim (rather than horrific) drama of encounter with alien technology and familiar human ugliness.”
I had been thinking about Campion long before I caught him leaving the flowers at my door.
It was the custom of Mimosa Line to admit witnesses to our reunions. Across the thousand nights of our celebration, a few dozen guests would mingle with us, sharing in the uploading of our consensus memories: the individual experiences gathered during our two-hundred thousand year circuits of the galaxy.
They had arrived from deepest space, their ships sharing the same crowded orbits as our own nine hundred and ninety-nine vessels. Some were members of other Lines—there were Jurtinas, Marcellins and Torquatas—while others were representatives of some of the more established planetary and stellar cultures. There were ambassadors of the Centaurs, Redeemers and the Canopus Sodality. There were also Machine People, delegates from the Monoceros Ring, ours being one of the few Lines that maintained cordial ties with the robots.
And there was Campion, sole representative of Gentian Line, one of the oldest in the Commonality. Gentian Line went all the way back to the Golden Hour, back to the first thousand years of the human spacefaring era.
Campion was a popular guest, always on someone or other’s arm. It helped that he was naturally at ease among strangers, with a ready smile and an easy, affable manner—full of his own stories, but equally willing to lean back and listen to ours, nodding and laughing in all the right places. He had adopted a slight, unassuming anatomy, with an open, friendly face and a head of tight curls that lent him a guileless, boyish appearance. His clothes and tastes were never ostentatious, and he mingled as effortlessly with the other guests as he did with the members of our Line. He seemed infinitely approachable, ready to talk to anyone.
For the Ages
It’s a terrible and beautiful thing I’ve done.
I suppose I already had it in mind, when the last uplink came in. Not that I’d come close to voicing the possibility to myself. If I’d been honest about the course I was on, I might well have requested immediate committal to stasis.
The right thing to do, in hindsight. And maybe we’d be on our way home now, back to the gratitude of a thousand worlds. Our house would have crumbled into the sea by the time we got back. But we could have always have built a new one, a little further from the headland.
Let me tell you something about myself, while there’s still time. These words are being recorded. Even as I speak, my suit’s mouse-sized repair robot is engraving them onto the suit’s exterior armour. Isolated in this cavern, the suit should be buffeted against the worst excesses of cosmic ray and micro-particle damage. Whether the inscriptions will remain legible, however, or whether in some sense you’ve already read them, I won’t begin to speculate. There’s been enough of that already, and I’m a little burned out by it all. Deep futurity, billions of years—the ultimate futility of any action, any deed, enduring for the smallest fraction of eternity—it’s enough to shrivel the soul. Vashka could handle that kind of thing, but I’m made of less sterner stuff.
We were in trouble before we hit their screens. What was left of our squadron had been decelerating hard, braking down from interstellar cruise. Three hundred gravities was a stiff test for any ship, but my vessels already bore grave scars from the maggot engagement around Howling Mouth. A small skirmish, against the larger picture of our war—it would be lucky if my squadron warranted a mention in the Great Dispatches.
But nonetheless it had bloodied us well. Weapons were exhausted, engines overloaded, hulls fatigued. We felt the cost of it now. Every once in a while one of my ships would vanish from the formation, ripped apart, or snatched ahead of the main pack.
I mourned my offspring for a few bitter instants. It was all I could give them.
Cassie Ettinger had always liked to climb. It had started with trees when she was small, then progressed to boulders and indoor training walls. In her teens she was already out-climbing adults twice her age. By the time she was hitting her twenties, struggling to motivate herself through a degree in architectural engineering, every available weekend was spent on rock. Each summer she pushed herself further than the last, scraping and begging her way onto climbing teams, slumming her way around the world in the last golden days of mass intercontinental travel. After she forged new routes up Rohlilahla and Bimbaluna, a measure of fame started coming her way. Sponsorship began to flow in from clothing and equipment suppliers. She got her face in the climbing magazines and the extreme sports documentaries.
Then came the fall.
A volantor descended through the airs of Chasm City.
The flying machine navigated a tricky, winding path through the thickening tangle of diseased buildings. Searchlights stabbed out from its belly, scissoring through rain, fog and smoke, glancing off the nearing obstructions. There seemed no end to the city’s descending levels; no end to the profusion of entanglements and mutated architecture.
A sudden vertigo gripped the nervous young man who had his face pressed to the volantor’s side-window. Merignac had never been good with heights. It was why he had chosen this line of work, above the other possibilities offered him. He had been assured that the sterilisation crews mostly worked the lowest levels.
Had they lied to him?
- Marc Simonetti
- Alastair Reynolds
- 381 pages
- eBook Edition