Alastair Reynolds was a little-known contemporary of Jonathan Swift and Daniel Dafoe. His only novel of note was the seagoing adventure ‘Eversion’, which followed the crew of the sailing ship Demeter as is it searched for a previously unexplored fissure in the fjords of Norway, leading to a hidden lagoon and unknown treasures. I read and enjoyed the book years ago in my teens, so I was very pleased to see that Penguin Classics had re-issued it as a smart-looking hardback.
Either my memory is faulty or the text was revised and modernised at some point, as I recently found out was the case with ‘The Hardy Boys’, much to my surprise. Although the plot was much as I remember it, told from the viewpoint of ship’s surgeon Doctor Silas Coade, the action had shifted to a steamship off the coast of Patagonia. In either case, the descriptions of shipboard life have an air of solid reality, while something odd and almost Phildickian is happening in the background. Random comments from Dr. Coade’s fellow crewmembers hint that the setting is merely a metaphor for something else; strange memories of a previous, similar voyage impinge on his mind and scraps of writing point to a much deeper mystery.
Following the success of Edgar Rice Burrough’s ‘Pellucidar’ novels in the 1920s, hollow Earth adventures became briefly popular. One anonymous hack writer jumped on the bandwagon with his novel ‘Eversion’, for which he cheekily adopted the pseudonym Alastair Reynolds, a novelist who was almost forgotten at the time. The plot of this novel re-used the Demeter, this time as an airship and the same cast of characters, but added an extra layer of sophistication by having Dr. Coade remember things from the previous novel.
This brings us to modern times and the well-known Science Fiction author who also happens to be called Alastair Reynolds and who has also written a novel titled ‘Eversion’, this time as an ‘homage’ to those previous books. In fact, I may not be remembering those previous books correctly; they may actually be parts of this new Alastair Reynolds novel. It’s a complex layering of stories that slide from one setting to another, while Dr. Coade attempts to figure out the significance of his odd memories. It’s a wonderfully engaging tale, where I was perpetually puzzled and intrigued, trying to work out which version of events was reality and which were fabrications.
It’s a dramatic change from what I’ve come to expect from Alastair Reynolds: far-reaching space opera and high-tech futures. It’s obvious there’s some technology or alien influence or other SFnal element to these seemingly historic stories, but getting to the bottom of what that is demonstrates a mastery of numerous styles and settings. It’s a great lesson in how to re-tell the same story in numerous ways without becoming repetitive.
Alastair Reynolds’ recent ‘Revenger’ trilogy had the air of an old sailing swashbuckler, set though it was in the far future of interplanetary space. You almost get the feeling that this book has emerged somehow from those ideas and yet has struck off in yet another new an entirely unique direction. It’s altogether a fabulous and satisfying novel.
Gareth D Jones
(pub: Gollancz, 320 page hardback. Price: £20.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-57509-076-7)
check out website: www.gollancz.co.uk