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Pushing Ice

February 19th, 2009 by jimm wetherbee in Reading EKScursions

Pushing IcePushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds (Ace Books 2006

Reynolds’ novel is a sprawling story in a confined space. Set in the year 2065, the crew of the interplanetary mining ship Rockhopper find themselves in a highly unusual position of having to chase down one of  Saturn’s moons (Juno), which has broken out of orbit and is accelerating out of the solar system. The Rockhopper is, as one might suppose, the only ship in the area with any real hope of intercepting the rouge moon. That Juno is no natural satellite is obvious, as is the reason to intercept it and get a better look—to find out what it is and to its technology. What is broadly hinted in the prologue is this voyage of the Rockhopper is the crucial turning point in human history. Thankfully, how the adventure of the Rockhopper and Juno change human history is not what one would expect and so the reader is led (and misled) by one expectation after another. Better still, the fate of humankind rapidly becomes incidental as it because clear that one of the main themes of this tale the bond of deep friendship, how it can turn to bitter enmity, and finally how—even with all the scars—such bitterness can be resolved, if not entirely healed.

Among Pushing Ice’s virtues is that has enough solid science to be believable without the science itself getting in the way. Reynolds is not interested in displaying his grasp of physics or biology. What he does is tell a human story set in a no-so-distant future, and he has enough of a grasp of how technology might develop to make that future convincing. This is not to say Pushing Ice is not without its defects. The book is almost like a pair of dumb-bells. There are three main sections. The two end sections are tightly woven narratives that propel the reader over the course of a few months. These two narratives are held together by a series of vignettes that drag out so long that Reynolds has to remind us of how much time has actually elapsed. More seriously, the characters—though diverse enough—seem interchangeable depending on the roles they happen to occupy. Reynolds even has his characters stating enough times that they or some other character would have taken some hated action were the table turned that it is hard to believe that the characters are not just so many malleable entities. Finally, in the epilogue, when Reynolds attempts to say something really big, truly profound, he comes of as merely sentimental and so brings the veneer of a satisfactory conclusion while avoiding the emotional and spiritual question he himself introduces. Having said that, Pushing Ice is well worth the few pleasurable hours it will take read and the moments of reflection that will follow.

Jimm Wetherbee

Pushing Ice is no longer held, but if it looks good, you can still get it on InterLibrary Loan.

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