Imagine a vast plateau, with smooth glass walls hundreds of meters high, the summit a dark and mysterious jungle. Within the jungle are venomous insects, poisonous plants, carnivorous reptiles, human statues in attitudes of unremitting agony, and dragons—great genetically tailored creatures whose purpose is to ward off the unwary wayfarer. Springplace is a man-made repository for the corrosive effluvia of the Nuclear Age—old reactor cores, dirty plutonium, dismantled bombs—and from this striking scenario, Robert Reed presents a gripping tale of intrigue, treachery, and adventure, as a renegade misfit conquers the dragons and renews the threat of nuclear chaos.
Even more mind-boggling is “Aeon’s Child,” a sprawling intergalactic epic that takes place aboard the ship: the rock-and-metal core of a giant world, its interior laced with tunnels, sunken seas, and apartments without number. After human beings have salvaged and commandeered this massive generation starship, it becomes the setting for a titanic struggle between two alien entities who engage in a monumental battle for survival.
Reed is more than a cosmic visionary whose virtuosic imagination spans the millennia, however; his insights into the human condition are both searching and profound. Thus “Chrysalis” portrays yet another ancient starship traveling through the mysterious interstices between the galaxies. Millions of years earlier, after an annihilatory war, humans built—and voluntarily surrendered themselves to—mechanical Artisans to protect their species from its own nihilistic nature. When a landing party from the ship decides to investigate an icy unknown planet, the author explores not just an alien milieu but the nature of man himself.
Advances in virtual technology allow the president of the United States to visit every household of the nation’s electorate simultaneously on the “First Tuesday” of each month, and he even stays for dinner.
In “Abducted Souls,” published here for the first time, a young college student has defined himself by his alleged alien abduction as a young child. When that abduction comes under scrutiny by his peers, he begins to question his own reality and self-worth.
Also included in this new collection are two stories from Reed’s well-regarded “Marrow” universe: “River of the Queen” centers on Quee Lee and Perri, immortal beings enjoying a half-million-year voyage around the galaxy in the Great Ship. In this story, the Queen of the title is kidnapped (or is she?) and Perri assists (or does he?) in her rescue. And in “Night of Time,” an ageless human named Ash meets two aliens, one a servant of the other, who Ash discovers to be even older—and stranger—than himself, as he helps each of them recover lost memories.
From the sardonic “On the Brink of That Bright New World” (a laborer uses aliens’ first contact to cover up a crime of passion) to the intense “Savior” (a military commander is held accountable for tortuous acts that helped save the human race), this collection exemplifies Library Journal’s assertion that Reed's stories evoke “visionary futures and scientific speculation.” With a nearly 6,000-word Afterward by the author that details the genesis of each story.
A gigantic mysterious abandoned spaceship, the size of Jupiter, is discovered entering the galaxy. It soon gets taken over, and turned into a stupendous cruise ship for billions of bored near-immortal life forms. Then 100 millennia into its new voyage around the galaxy, a strange secret is discovered at the centre of the ship.
I found this very hard going, and I kept putting it down to read something else, yet something compelled me to finish it. I came at it expecting another Big Dumb Object tale, but, somewhat to my disappointment (I like BDO tales), it is actually a story of the bizarre long-lived crew and how they react to the discoveries in their ship. Yet, because the action takes place over millennia (and it's very irritating that that much used word is consistently misspelled as 'millenia'), there is very little feeling of urgency, or tension, at least until right near the end. And then the revelations about the nature of the ship are somewhat pulled out of a hat.
I guess my problem is that I am more interested in the ship than its crew, but the story is more about the crew than the ship. Yet the feeling of sheer scale -- the planetary size of the ship, the millennia that elapse between events, the staggering number of beings on board -- is well-drawn, and saves the story, for me at least.