Beyond the Aquila Rift | Alastair Reynolds | 2016 | Gollancz | 784p | Review copy | Buy the book
The imagination and creative genius of Alastair Reynolds is extraordinary and arguably nowhere is this better demonstrated than in Beyond the Aquila Rift, a substantial anthology of seventeen short stories, some of which have featured in other collections and some which have not. The stories vary in length from just twenty-odd pages to over one hundred and are drawn from a range of science fiction universes, including Revelation Space and there is not one story among them that didn’t make me stop and draw breath. I originally treated myself to one story an evening but about halfway through I gave up on this and gobbled the rest up, not letting the size of this big hardback put me off carrying it wherever I went, always looking forward to my next dip, confidently assured that I would be amazed by it.
I couldn’t stop raving about this book as I read it and I think that’s because it’s been a significant read for me. Firstly, I’ve never been a fan of short stories or novellas. I usually like a story to be long enough that I can be consumed by it for several days and it can take me a while to be fully immersed in a new science fiction world. But none of that mattered here. I found myself being completely fascinated by the premise, setting and characters of these stories almost instantly. I couldn’t believe that this would continue for the whole collection but it did! The other reason why this book feels significant for me is that it has made me realise that Alastair Reynolds at his best is the very best.
I’m not going to give away much about these stories because discovering them for the first time is part of their enormous pleasure but I do want to stress how varied they are. Some are set in a far distant future in which mankind has been altered almost beyond recognition although still hanging on to that something that makes it human; there are robots, some more human than others; there are wars; there is a future Ice-Age Newcastle as well as other depictions of Earth in a damaged near-future; there are enigmatic alien artefacts; there are artists, including one in search of the perfect blue. There are also plenty of clever twists and surprises and a range of moods – nobody does horror in space like Alastair Reynolds and here there are fine examples of situations and sights that will make your blood run cold. There is also tenderness, notably between an old man on Mars and a young girl who has stowed away on a space ship. There are a couple of young adult stories. There is a touch of the bizarre – most notably in the final story which introduces us to Derek the T-Rex – extraordinary and so funny! Throughout these stories, we meet so many intriguing, memorable characters in such a remarkable array of situations and locations.
If I had to pick a favourite story, I just couldn’t, but potential choices include Diamond Dogs, Minla’s Flowers, the Last Log of the Lachrimosa, The Old Man and the Martian Sea, and the story which gives the collection its name. And all the others.
The collections closes with notes on each of the stories, which provides such fascinating background to their origin, development and inspiration as well as their influence on Alastair Reynolds’ novels.
Above all else, Beyond the Aquila Rift is full of wonders. You can find them in every story, reminding me why I love Alastair Reynolds’ novels so much. The Medusa Chronicles is already one of my stand out novels of 2016. I am gobsmacked at the breadth and scope of imagination and writing genius on display here. I am so pleased I have more novels and short stories to read, including Revenger, the next novel, which is published this September and will be reviewed here shortly.
Blue Remembered Earth (Poseidon’s Children 1)
On the Steel Breeze (Poseidon’s Children 2)
Poseidon’s Wake (Poseidon’s Children 3)
With Stephen Baxter – The Medusa Chronicles