"I had already seen dozens of empires come and go, blossoming and fading like lilies on a pond, over and over, seasons without end. Many of those empires were benevolent and welcoming, but others were inimical to all outside influences. It made no difference to their longevity. The kind empires withered and waned as quickly as the hostile ones."
The above passage from House of Suns serves to illustrate the author's grandiose scheme for this book. The story spans millions of years and hundreds of them often pass in the blink of an eye. Talk about fast moving narrative, this book almost break the FTL barrier. That said the story is not hard to follow providing you give it time to unfold and settle you in its very far future settings. In spite of the grand scale there are not that many characters to keep track of. The first person narrative is split into that of three protagonists, actually only one
protagonist in a way. It all starts with this one girl Abigail Gentian who grew up in a weird shape shifting house and later cloned herself a thousand (+/-1) times for space exploration purposes. These thousand clones meet up every thousand years or so to celebrate, compare notes and basically party like it's 1999 (+ many kilo centuries). On one such occasion they are attacked and almost wiped out...
My inadequate synopsis barely scratches the surface of the immense story. This is my second Alastair Reynolds book, the first being [b:Revelation Space|89187|Revelation Space (Revelation Space, #1)|Alastair Reynolds|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1306807253s/89187.jpg|219037] which is his debut novel published 8 years before House of Suns. I rather like Revelation Space but in a muted sort of way, I thought the characters were on the flat side and a lot of the science went over my head. Well, I am glad to report that in the intervening years (while I was in suspended animation) Mr. Reynolds has acquired the arcane skills of character development. The central characters are likable and believable and the robot characters are just wonderful. While some of the science still goes whoosh! right over my head this is to be expected as I have difficulty figuring out how dental floss works. That said, most of the science and inventions are explained quite clearly and still comes across as ingenious.
Interestingly some very odd beings appear in this book but none of them are aliens. Which brings me to another quote from the book:
"Yes, humanity fractured into a million daughter species, some of which were scarcely recognisable to each other. But scratch beneath the scales, the fur, the tin armour, they were still humans at the core, and no amount of primate babble could ever drown out that silence completely."
TL;DR: No aliens! All the weird blighters that show up in this book are post-humans, though a mysterious alien race is referred to they never actually drop by at any point. The post-humans weirdos more than make up for them though.
There are mercifully brief fantasy interludes (inside a virtual reality) which I don't really care for, it reminds of scenes from Neal Stephenson's [b:The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer|827|The Diamond Age|Neal Stephenson|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320415915s/827.jpg|2181158] which did not appeal to me (the scenes, not the book). This book could also do with a bit more humour and levity, but the poignant finale tugs nicely at the heartstrings.
I really should stop rating books at five stars or I shall have no credibility left. I don't want to be the Paula Abdul of Goodreads or something, but really at the end of the day this is a great mind expanding read and to rate it less than five stars seems churlish. I think I will rate the next book I review at 4 stars max, regardless of how good it is!