Troika: Russian cosmonauts explore a BDO

Troika Kindle Edition by Alastair ReynoldsTroika by Alastair Reynolds science fiction book reviewsTroika by Alastair Reynolds

Troika is a stand-alone hard science fiction novella that was first published in the 2010 anthology Godlike Machines edited by Jonathan Strahan. In 2011 it was published on its own by Subterranean Press. The story is Alastair Reynolds’ take on the Big Dumb Object trope.

In Reynolds’ future, Russia is the world’s only major superpower and has sent three cosmonauts to examine an alien object, which they call the Matryoshka, which has arrived in Earth’s solar system through a wormhole. The story takes place years after the cosmonauts return and one has escaped the mental institution he’s been imprisoned in to visit the female astronomer who was part of their crew and now lives in poverty. Through their conversation, and a series of flashbacks, they reminisce about the dangerous mission and their exploration of the strange alien artifact, and they reflect on the surprising things they learned and what those things mean for the future of humankind.

Troika reminds me a bit of Reynolds’ novella Diamond Dogs, in which a team of adventurers similarly brave harsh conditions and deadly traps in order to explore an alien object. In both novellas I was fascinated by Reynolds’ Big Dumb Object, but had a hard time connecting with his characters. But even though I found the Russian cosmonauts to be cold and remote, Troika contains a warm-hearted message about curiosity, human connection, the power of music, and hope for the future.nasa

This novella might also be seen as Reynolds’ disappointment in the US government’s decision to cut back funding for NASA and a warning that we should not abandon our space exploration programs. While I share Alastair Reynolds’ opinion on that subject, I doubt that Troika is likely to change anyone’s mind.

Troika was nominated for the Hugo, Locus, and Sturgeon Award for best novella. I listened to the 3-hour long audio version of Troika which was narrated by Wayne June. His Russian accents were totally believable.

Published in 2011. In novels such as Chasm City and Revelation Space, Alastair Reynolds established himself as an indisputable master of the far-flung intergalactic epic. Reynolds brings that same deceptively effortless mastery to the shorter fictional forms, a fact that Troika, his elegant, compulsively readable new novella, amply demonstrates. Troika tells the story of men and women confronting an enigma known as the Matryoshka, a vast alien construct whose periodic appearances have generated terror, wonder, and endless debate. During its third “apparition” in a remote corner of the galaxy, a trio of Russian cosmonauts approach this enigma and attempt to penetrate its mysteries. What they discover–and what they endure in the process–forms the centerpiece of an enthralling, constantly surprising narrative. Troika is at once a wholly original account of First Contact and a meditation on time, history, and the essentially fluid nature of identity itself. Suspenseful, erudite, and gracefully written, it is a significant accomplishment in its own right and a welcome addition to a remarkable body of work.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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3 comments

  1. Yes, it’s hard to image thousands of people flooding the government’s Twitter feed saying “We just read TROIKA — now Fund NASA!” Nice dream, though.

    • True. But what I really meant (avoiding spoilers) is that the the consequences of space exploration in this story are so unlikely that nobody is going to read it and say “SEE! This is why we need to explore space.” It’s not going to connect with people as a reason to spend money on space. There are better reasons.

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