House of Suns - Alastair Reynolds

***** Splendid space opera that leaves you open-mouthed

This is Reynolds’s third book I’ve read so far and once again I find myself faced with something totally different. In “Century Rain” I’d found a completely original approach to time travel and uchronia, without being either of them. In “Revelation Space” I had immersed myself in a dark and pessimistic space opera. In “House of Suns” instead I was overwhelmed by the irrepressible imagination of the author, who astonishes the reader and presents them with a future characterised by a considerable optimism.
Despite the enormous differences between these three books, I could recognise the author thanks to his highly refined, rich prose and, of course, the presence of numerous elements of hard science fiction, despite being space opera. Indeed, it’s evident that Reynolds is a scientist in the choice of themes to be explored through narration. Although having to incorporate technologies that are very distant from the current ones (and very probably never reachable), he still manages to maintain a certain scientific plausibility on some of the dynamics of the story’s development (for example, through the use of spaceships that do not exceed the speed of light), mixing, with wisdom, imagination and astrophysics and thus giving the reader the opportunity to learn something new, while scenarios that leave them speechless unravel in their mind.
Even I, while following the adventures of the two protagonists (the clones called Campion and Purslane), found myself vividly imagining the places in space shown through their eyes, almost as if I could see those places or were there with them.
At the beginning, their adventures proceeded without me having the faintest idea where the book was getting at. Moreover, the choice to use the first person for both protagonists and for a third narrative voice (Abigail Gentian, the creator of the Gentian line, to which the clones belong) is quite destabilising (at the beginning of each chapter you need to figure out who is talking) and I believe that, along with the length of the book, it could discourage from reading. And in my case, it was almost succeeding. But then I realised that I had done well to continue, as the various open threads began to connect and the first twists occurred. The very choice to always use the first person showed a well-defined meaning, taking away from me the fear that it was due to some sloppiness on the part of the author. At a certain point, I didn’t care anymore to try to understand the direction of the story, but I preferred to let myself be dragged by it, happy that there was still so much to read and that the end was far away. And as I got closer to it, my wonder and enjoyment increased.
I cannot and will not say more about the plot, since it is so vast and complex that any attempt to indicate some salient points would be insufficient. I just say that I rarely happened to see so many ideas in the same novel and all so well developed. It’s a long book not because it has a slow rhythm, but because a lot happens, enough to satisfy, at least for a while, the hunger for new stories of anyone who loves to read science fiction.
And in fact, once I finished reading it, it was hard for me to find another book to read that could stand comparison with this one.

House of Suns on Amazon.


  1. At the end you mention that you find it hard to find another book that could stand comparison. If you haven't read them already, you might want to give Cixin Liu's "Rememberance of Earth's Past" series (colloquially known as the "The Three Body Problem" trilogy) a shot.

    The characters are somewhat flat, and thankfully the English translation contains some notes on Chinese history/culture that would otherwise be lost on us Westerners. But the ideas and story more than make up for the somewhat harder read.