Medusa Chronicles by Alastair Reynolds and Stephen Baxter book review

Two sci-fi master combine for The Medusa Chronicles

Medusa Chronicles Stephen Baxter Alastair Reynolds

The fast-paced but wildly expansive The Medusa Chronicles is inspired by Arthur C Clarke’s short story A Meeting With Medusa, one of his last-ever published works.

Centred on Howard Falcon, a man physically – and mentally – transformed by a catastrophic tragedy, it tells a story covering over 900 eventful years of his life, spanning the length and breadth – and innermost secrets – of the Solar System.

Machines become self-aware, super-smart chimps become independent, and humans, though united under the World Government, become ever-more efficient at their número uno hobby: war.

However, the core theme of the story – like so many from both its writers (as well as their inspiration) – is discovery. As the plot unfolds, the minutiae of interplanetary politics or the machine’s strategy against its oppressive creators is made secondary, becoming white noise that our protagonists, Howard, Hope Dhori and the AI Adam, try to tune out on their more interesting journey. And that’s where Baxter and Reynolds’ brilliance shines through.

Clearly reverential but never derivative of Clarke’s original work, Baxter and Reynolds’ respective styles work in near-faultless harmony. Here, Baxter’s incredible grasp of hard science fiction and alternate history (there are regular interludes flashing back to 1967-68) combines with Reynolds’ unique sense of discovery, especially in the face of moral or political ambiguity.

It’s leaner than most of their solo novels, but is still a grand, old-school space opera. At times feeling like a companion piece to Clarke’s magnum opus 2001: A Space Odyssey – what with its links to Jupiter and its moons, the relationship between humans and AI, as well as journeys of transcendent discovery – it nevertheless stands proudly on its own feet.

A joy to read, it’s yet another feather in Baxter and Reynolds’ well-adorned hats.