Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds (Trantor Audio, 2009)
Review by Lis Carey: Chasm City is set in Reynolds’ Revelation Space universe, a century or so after the events of The Prefect and Elysium Fire. Or, put another way, some years after the end of the Belle Epoch, the golden age of the height of human civilization in the Yellowstone system, where Chasm City on the planetary surface, and the Glitter Band, made up of thousands of orbital habitats, offered the near-idyllic life of your choice, until the Melding Plague brought it crashing down.
The Melding Plague infects all nanotechnology, including nanotech implants in human beings, and causes it to mutate and distort in ways that in machinery is disturbing and dangerous, and in humans is horrific. The near-utopian life of the Belle Epoch civilization in the Yellowstone system depended on that nanotech and what it made possible. The wealthy who were able to get their implants out, or who sealed themselves into high-tech coffins that allow them to live lives with the tools and pleasures of implants, live in relative comfort in the Canopy of Chasm City. The non-wealthy live in much less desirable areas lower down, and the lowest and worst of those areas is the Mulch.
The main character is Tanner Mirabel, or at least, he sincerely believes he is. He comes to Yellowstone from the world of Sky’s Edge, and he’s hunting the man who killed his friend and employer, Cahuella, an arms dealer and, by many accounts, a sadistic monster. Tanner has a better opinion of him than many others, indeed thinks of him as being in some ways a good man. Cahuella’s wife tells Tanner he’s better than Tanner realizes, that he was better than his reputation when she met him, and has continued to improve since.
Tanner is one of the two narrative voices in the book, the other being Sky Haussmann, born on a slow colony ship from Earth to the intended colony world of Journey’s End. The ship has a crew of about 150, and a cargo of tens of thousands of sleepers, who will be awakened on arrival at their new home. We meet Haussmann as a young boy, and follow him as he rises through the crew, by intelligence, hard work, and, oh yes, treachery. He becomes both the hero and the villain of the story of how the planet–now called Sky’s Edge–was successfully settled.
He also becomes a religious figure, inspiration for a cult, and his followers have created a virus that gives those infected visions of his life.
Tanner’s home is Sky’s Edge, and he has become infected with the virus.
Tanner leaves Sky’s Edge and goes to Yellowstone, after Cahuella and his wife are killed, pursuing the killer. Without FTL, the trip takes fifteen years, and it’s during those fifteen years that Yellowstone goes from the very height of civilization to collapse under the effects of the Melding Plague, and struggling to preserve any civilization at all. The Glitter Band is now the Rust Band, and only parts of Chasm City are civilized and pleasant–and even that part has a bloodthirsty edge that perhaps was just not so apparent before. Along the way, he meets the religious order that cares for those who awake from cold sleep with their minds not yet fully reintegrated, the entrepreneurs who, for a price, will remove your implants, hopefully before the Melding Plague gets you. He meets some interesting people, some of whom are part of one of Chasm City’s more bloodthirsty sports, and some very attractive women who may or may not be his friends.
His sleeping visions of the life of Sky Haussmann become more frequent, more intrusive, and start to depart from the official version of Sky’s life.
In his waking hours, outside the visions, he starts to learn some confusing and disturbing things about himself and those around him.
And we start to ask ourselves, as he is, who is Tanner Mirabel, really?
There are twists on twists, here, and the answer may not be what you think.
Tanner, Sky, and the people Tanner meets, are interesting and compelling characters, not necessarily likable, and not necessarily who you think.
It’s an absorbing and exciting book.
I received this audiobook as a gift.