House of Suns
(Alastair Reynolds, 2008)

At some unspecified date in the not-near future, Abigail Gentian is a young woman who inherits a rich family business, specializing in human cloning.

She decides on an ambitious project, creating a thousand clones of herself, each imprinted with her own memories in full, to travel out and explore the galaxy in a thousand spaceships. Heedless of the family business that gave her the money to do this, she merges herself among the clones so that it's impossible to tell which one is really her, and goes out voyaging with them.

She's not the only one to take this route, but it's an exercise available only to the very rich, so there are relatively few groups of shatterlings (as they're known) venturing out into the galaxy.

They all have techniques of personal immortality, and also various methods of achieving suspended animation during long journeys. Reynolds respects the laws of physics, and so the spaceships in this book travel at sublight speeds, and journeys around the galaxy are very long indeed.

The shatterlings of Gentian Line travel around the galaxy (once around the galaxy is referred to as a circuit), stopping here and there to sample what's going on. Once per circuit, they all meet at a prearranged time and place, have a party, and exchange memories. I don't just mean that they chat: they have techniques for downloading memories, uploading memories, and managing memories spanning greater lengths of time than we can imagine. So they can all share each other's memories in a literal sense.

The plot of the story is that, for some reason initially unknown, some organization decides to exterminate Gentian Line. The traditional reunion party is ambushed and most of them are killed. The shocked survivors have to determine what happened and how to respond. It turns out that the ambush was not irrational: one of the Gentian shatterlings has unwittingly uncovered a potentially deadly secret, and their attackers believe themselves justified in their action, for reasons of galactic security (no less!).

Good points

Not-so-good points


Written in May, July 2009