Slow Bullets: Small, but packs a punch

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsSlow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds science fiction book reviewsSlow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds

Slow Bullets
is the latest addition to Alastair Reynolds’ impressive body of work, a slim novella which he manages to fill with plausible far-future technology, interstellar war, and questions of identity and legacy.

Scurelya “Scur” Timsuk Shunde is a soldier for the Peripheral Systems, which are at war with the Central Worlds. One of the central points of conflict are the Books which each side holds sacred; while never explicitly named, the Books share several common tenets, and are clearly religious in nature. This war has gone on for a long time, ranging across countless star systems, but a ceasefire has finally been declared. Of course, after extended periods of conflict, it can be difficult to convince people that peace has been achieved. Orvin, a vicious war criminal who is wanted by both sides, captures Scur and implants a modified “slow bullet” into her leg: rather than containing medical and personal information, like a small flash drive, it will travel through her body to her heart, damaging tissue and causing great pain as it goes. If she begs him, though, he will detonate it and kill her instantly. What a nice guy!

“Obviously,” as Scur herself says, “I did not die in the bunker.”

Scur wakes in a hibernation couch on Caprice, a transport ship orbiting the planet Tottori. A mutiny is under way: the ship’s crew members are being attacked by newly-awakened passengers, most of whom are war criminals from either side of the conflict. The Caprice is badly damaged, food and oxygen supplies are limited, many hibernation couches have failed (killing the sleepers inside), and there is no communication from the planet below. In fact, the Caprice is not receiving communication from anything or anyone else in known space. As if this weren’t enough, Orvin is hiding somewhere on the ship and there may also be a stowaway somewhere on board. Scur must determine who her allies are, find out why the ship is in terrible condition and repair crucial systems so that Caprice’s orbit doesn’t just decay planetside, and answer the most pressing question of all: Why has the universe gone quiet?

Slow Bullets begins with Scur’s first-person narration, which is an effective method for conveying her story, but then Reynolds adds a new layer of interest by having Scur directly address the reader. By referring to things that the reader supposedly has experience with, treating them not only as a person who is reading a book but a person who is reading Scur’s hand-written account of her actions — scratched into the walls of a ship which the “reader” has been living on — Reynolds immerses the reader into the extraordinary events that Scur encounters. The epistolary style isn’t one that I’ve seen too often in science fiction, and Reynolds uses it to great effect here.

My only complaint is that the novella was too short: there is a surprise near the end which I wish had been explored more fully, but it’s simply glossed over by Scur. The detail revealed, however, calls into question everything the reader has been told about certain characters and their motivations. Additionally, I had questions about how and why this action had been taken, since there’s no indication in the preceding pages that it would be possible. None of this prevented me from enjoying the novella or its conclusion, but it did throw me for a loop.

However, I consider Slow Bullets a great introduction to Reynolds’ style and skill. Readers who are already familiar with his work are sure to enjoy this, and if activity on Goodreads and the Internet in general over the last month is any indication, fans will have all kinds of ideas as to whether and how this fits in with his larger body of work. (I have it on good authority from a trusted source that Slow Bullets is meant to stand alone, but I still enjoy reading fan speculation.) I’ll be sure to add other Reynolds novels, like Revelation Space and House of Suns, to my TBR list.

Publication date: June 9, 2015. From the author of the Revelation Space series comes an interstellar adventure of war, identity, betrayal, and the preservation of civilization itself. A vast conflict, one that has encompassed hundreds of worlds and solar systems, appears to be finally at an end. A conscripted soldier is beginning to consider her life after the war and the family she has left behind. But for Scur—and for humanity—peace is not to be. On the brink of the ceasefire, Scur is captured by a renegade war criminal, and left for dead in the ruins of a bunker. She revives aboard a prisoner transport vessel. Something has gone terribly wrong with the ship. Passengers—combatants from both sides of the war—are waking up from hibernation far too soon. Their memories, embedded in bullets, are the only links to a world which is no longer recognizable. And Scur will be reacquainted with her old enemy, but with much higher stakes than just her own life.

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but now makes her home in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, Ann Leckie, N.K. Jemisin, and Seanan McGuire.

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4 comments

  1. I have a bunch of books by Alastair Reynolds, but I haven’t read a single one of them. I must, I must!

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