Today, Antonio Díaz reviews Beyond the Aquila Rift, a book that includes the best short stories of genius of science fiction, both in short and long formats: Alastair Reynolds. Hope you enjoy it!
Review Soundtrack: Antonio suggest reading this review while listening to the main theme of the movie Cube (YouTube).
Beyond the Aquila Rift: The Best of Alastair Reynolds is this short stories collection's really long title containing the selected works of the British author. My only experience with Reynolds has been the book House of Suns, a fantastic specimen of this new space opera that made me go back to read science fiction with a renewed energy. Despite my general lack of knowledge of Reynolds' universes (specially Revelation Space) and even my more profound lack of experience reading anthologies and collections (from which I always end up running away), Leticia Lara's recommendation (Reynolds resident expert who kindly shared the reading with me [you can read her review, which includes an amazing infography, here in Spanish]) I finally decided to take the chance.
Summary: after reading the anthology, I've decided that they should have named it simply The Very Best and stop wasting everybody's time (and saving a bunch of cover space in the process).
This anthology is a 770-page mammoth according to my Kindle (without which my wrist would be broken by now), containing eighteen stories of a total of sixty-something that Reynolds has written. Some of these stories take place in the Revelation Space saga, like The Great Wall, Weather, The Last Log of the Lachrymosa or, maybe, Star Surgeon's Apprentice. Meanwhile, The Thousandth Night is undoubtedly set in the same world as House of Suns (is, in fact, its prequel). In some stories the mysterious Jugglers are mentioned, like in The Sledge-Maker's Daughter or Minla's Flowers, so I understand those take place in the same universe. However, the majority of the stories in Beyond the Aquila Rift are independent or, if they're not, their links to Reynold's existing universes have eluded me. This is fundamentally a positive trait, because Beyond the Aquila Rift is a wonderful way of trying Reynolds for the very first time before attempting a longer read.
The collection includes short stories, novelettes and novellas. A handful of them are rather short (twenty pages or less), some rather long, like Minla's Flowers or The Thousandth Night (which go well over the seventy pages each). The crown goes to Diamond Dogs, which is over a hundred pages.
Some stories treat space exploration and its consequences, intended or not, like In Babelsberg, The Last Log of the Lachrymosa, Troika or Minla's Flowers. Others talk about art, like the mesmerizing Zima's Blue or Vainglory. Zima's Blue itself or Fury have a lot of elements in common, like a theory about artificial intelligence generation that stroke me as revolutionary.
Horror is ubiquitous in this anthology, specially in The Last Log of the Lachrymosa, The Star Surgeon's Apprentice or Diamond Dogs. This last one is fascinating and terrifying, talking about the exploration of mysterious ruins filled with mathematical challenges in a lost planet.
Human being's artificial modifications are a prominent topic in Reynolds' work. When does a human stop being human? How much can someone change his body or his mind until he severs the link with the rest of his species? Can someone 'undo' the path taken looking for 'perfection'? These and other questions are entertained in Beyond the Aquila Rift.
Another repeated topic is the influence in primitive civilizations. Is it good for an advanced being to interact with a primitive planet? What can the consequences be? If a being from a primitive planet gets his hands on alien technology, what will happen to him? And to the rest of his civilization?
Hate is also omnipresent. Hate of the strange, weird or simply different. Hate of machines, hate of aliens and between human beings themselves. Alastair Reynolds uses hate as an engine to power most of his stories, showing us our ugliest side. However, despite most of his stories being partial to darkness, there is some space for reflection and hope.
Is hard for me to choose among this collection's stories: Diamond Dogs, Minla's Flowers, Troika, Fury, Sleepover and The Water Thief are excellent. Particularly the last two contain visions about science-fiction that I've never seen.It may be easier to just talk about those that I didn't like as much. Trauma Pod came as repetitive and with a very overdone main theme (the loss of identity by a human being) and The Old Man and the Sea simply bored me. The idea of having a young child as POV in order to show us the world through her eyes didn't work with me.
To sum up, reading this collection I understand why Reynolds is the million-pound man. He is an expert in short format writing. Beyond the Aquila Rift is, possibly, the best collection that I've ever read and undoubtedly one of this year's best books. If you don't know his work or if you have only read Reynolds' novels, don't hesitate, go beyond the Aquila Rift and get a copy!