Blue Remembered Earth is different in one obvious way from other works I’ve read by Reynolds: it plays out on a much less epic canvas. It’s set only a century or two in the future, and the action is limited to the Earth, the Moon and Mars. This has the useful side effect of allowing Reynolds to have some fun with geopolitics – Africa, China, and India are now the dominant powers, and there’s nary a mention of the United States and Europe – but on the less bright side, we see less of the futuristic inventiveness that characterises so much of the technological backdrop of, say, the Revelation Space universe.
Instead this book hinges mostly on plot, which to its credit is engaging enough. The plot is structured as a quest: Geoffrey Akinya, who spends his time studying elephants in Africa, and his sister Sunday, a struggling artist who lives in a libertarian colony on the Moon, follow a series of clues left behind by their recently deceased, famous, larger-than-life grandmother Eunice. In a hint of Reynolds’ usual epic reach, it becomes clear as the plot unfolds that the clues point to something hugely important for humanity’s future. Of course, we can’t have protagonists without antagonists, and we have ourselves some villains in the form of the corporate-caricature cousins, Hector and Lucas, who run the massively wealthy and influential corporation that Eunice founded, Akinya Space. (Reynolds definitely has some fun with these two; I particularly enjoyed the bit where Lucas is revealed to use an ’empathy shunt’ – an implant disabling his capacity for empathy – to make him more effective during business meetings.)
The book’s weaknesses come from its blandness in other dimensions. No character stands out as being particularly well-developed, and some characters, like Jitendra, could be removed entirely from the book with virtually zero impact on the narrative. With the exception of the Mechanism, an all-seeing computerised entity that reaches all over the Earth and has the power to intervene and stop crimes before they are committed, none of the technology is particularly interesting either. (Not that the Mechanism is much more than a background presence: its social implications are brought up but never fully explored, with everything in the book being subordinate to the progression of the quest.)
Verdict: Good reading to while away idle time. And a gentler introduction to Reynolds’ work than the Revelation Space books, which I recall being frankly weird in parts. Sequels could be promising, since the book’s ending sets up well for them.
I give this book: 3.5 out of 5 elephants