Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds

Chasm City, a relatively hard SF novel, was written in 2001. It sits second in a quartet of novels, but is really a standalone story.

The first book, Revelation Space, (2000), sets the scene of much of the goings on in Chasm City on the planet Yellowstone – that book was followed by Redemption Ark, which picked up the thread from the storyline of Revelation Space, and then Absolution Gap completed that series.

For me, Chasm City allowed Mr Reynolds to weave a multi levelled SF masterpiece around the planet Yellowstone – where much of drama in the other three books transpires. Told in the first person by Tanner Mirabel, who suffers through disastrous accident right off the bat. He wakens on a planet in medechine hospice, with little memory of who he is, or what he’d done in the past. He’s cared for and nursed back to some semblance of health. To patch back together these pieces of his past life, Mirabel journeys to Chasm City.

The city, a once grand and glorious metropolis, has been infected by the Melding Plague, causing strange malfusions in the autonomous repairs systems of the up to a mile high buildings. The glories of the past (think 1890’s but in the far future) are now misshapen and perverse. The nobles live high above the slime and debris on the ground, never having to commune with those unlucky enough to eke out survival there.

Chasm City was once orbited by the Glitter Band, a marvel for the ages. But now, it’s the Rust Belt, gone the way of the plague. We follow Mirabel through the City’s exotic and the unholy population as he finds clues to recall his past. I can’t say too much more, but: Mirabel must deal with a virus – infected by the Sky Haussman cult, the former leader of his homeworld – loved by some, hated for his brutality by others; the virus causes him flashbacks into Sky Haussmann’s life; and much more in this tightly written novel.

I found this a very satisfying SF book after wandering in the dark of some uninspiring stuff. Which goes to show: if you, the reader want to find good SF, it’s out there.

PS: I have lost count of the number of copies of Revelation Space books I have unearthed in secondhand book shops, then lent or posted to interested people.


The Genocides – Thomas M Disch

TM Disch (1944 – 2008) wrote The Genocides – his first novel, in 1965. It was nominated for the Nebula Award for that year.

Some books I read and when its finished the characters, themes and prose, all drift away to that place where memories dissolve – never to be remembered. I read The Genocides in my teens, and the overwhelming feelings of humankind’s insignificance, the cloying, trapped feelings surrounding the principle players has always stayed with me. In 1965, the top players in the game were Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke – with Piers Anthony, Robert Silverberg, AE Van Vogt, Theodore Sturgeon, and many talented writers up and coming. In the Disch’s The Genocides, the whole of the Earth has been planted out by an unamed and unseen aliens. The alien crop is made up of giant, tubular plants that soon outcompete everything on the planet.

All that are left are the rapidly diminishing small groups of humans, who are being extinguished as pests by spherical robots. The story is written in the variable viewpoint 3rd person. Two disparate groups come together: the settled old order, and a party of ragtag people just trying to live hand to mouth. They clash and everything changes for both groups.

What has remained with me, from the novel, has been the incredible insignificance of the humans – their inevitable demise in the near future unrecognised in any way by the crop planting aliens. The people inhabiting the story are less than ants to the new overseers of the Earth, which is just a fertile meadow for them. The characters have their adventures, of course, and I won’t give any of them away.

I have written this from my memory of the novel as I read it more than 40 years ago. If you get a chance to see a copy, grab it.