SLOW BULLETS – Alastair Reynolds (2015)

Slow BulletsFirst things first: when I received this book after ordering it, it felt like a total rip off. Slow Bullets is not much more than a short story printed in a large font to spread it out over 190 pages, and then sold for the price of a regular novel, although it’s hardly a novelette.

Marketing & packaging aside, the content doesn’t amount to much. Slow Bullets is underdeveloped. Not a lot happens, it’s basically a couple of people waking up on a sleeper ship without knowing where they are and what year it is. They then find out because someone tells them, and then they try to cope with the fact that the ship’s vast memory banks are slowly degenerating.

Memory is the theme of this book, but it’s hardly explored. Reynolds just scratches the surface. What’s the interplay between the memories kept in the slow bullets and people’s real brain memories? It’s never explained nor shown. These slow bullets are personal thumb drives that are inserted with a kind of gun and move on their own through the body to their designated spot someplace in the chest. For a supposedly highly developed star faring culture with automatic robot surgeons that’s a messy and lengthy way of inserting a memory bank. Again, Reynolds didn’t think a seemingly nice idea through, why would he, since it makes for a good title, and an early torture scene! At the end, there’s a page and a half about the link between memory and identity, but again, it’s hardly developed and as a result it doesn’t have depth.

To add insult to injury, there’s some superficial stuff about religion, since part of the war in Slow Bullets was about “the Book” and its different interpretations. We even get 2 pages (1% of the page count) full of insightful discussion of this “the Book”, that goes like this:

character 1: There’s also a lot of common sense in it. Just basic good advice for living a decent life, being kind, thinking of your neighbours and so on. My father was a devout man, but also honest in his business dealings. He took that from the Book, even though it brought trouble on us as a family.

character 2: Then the Book can damage, if you follow it too literally.

Nuff said.

This entire booklet felt like a draft, trying to put 2 or 3 ideas randomly together, and not even expanding upon them. The sad thing is that this could have been a great story, one that did live up to the blurb of the back cover (“a vast conflict between hundreds of worlds…”), but then it would have needed at least 4 times as many pages. Slow Bullets never felt vast, and never felt like something written by one of the “mastersingers of Space Opera”.

No character development. No world building. Totally random aliens with godlike powers that only serve as the explanation for the back story, they are a kind of ‘reversed’ deus ex machina.

Readers new to Reynolds better start with Revelation Space or House of Suns, and Reynolds veterans shouldn’t start with too high expectations – I, for one, was disappointed.

originally written on the 27th of September, 2015

(Update 10/2018: I have given up on Reynolds completely. Part of that is my evolving taste, but he’s also been writing books at a pacing that simply can’t keep up with quality. He needs to eat and pay rent, I get it, but it’s such a waste of potential.)

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