Poseidon’s Wake stands apart. Although Alastair Reynolds’ latest space opera is the conclusion to the Poseidon’s Children trilogy, it follows on from 2013’s On The Steel Breeze loosely enough that it easily stands on its own in narrative terms.
While continuing to put Akinya family front and centre, the introduction to their lives and worlds – Mars and a new human settlement called Crucible – is thorough enough for anyone to dive in here. And ‘dive’ is quite fitting too, as Poseidon’s Wake is perhaps the most thorough, immersive and extensive science fiction novel we’ve read in years.
Reynolds’ scientific education is on full display, as the novel permeates a sense of realism throughout, from the scientific ideas – even the most far-flung ones – to the nature of the characters and their relationships, which eschew the normal ‘dark’, Hollywood-like trend of action heroes in literature, with a sense of optimism and discovery.
Centering on an interstellar journey to Gliese 163 after a mysterious message from there is aimed at Crucible, the story’s themes of faster-than-light travel, the presence of super-intelligent, near-godlike beings called Watchkeepers and the Akinya family’s experiments with elephant-like Tantors grips the reader from the opening chapter, and doesn’t let go over the next 730 pages. While the science certainly doesn’t pander, it’s never so obtuse or alien that it puts the reader off, as it’s always perceived or explained through one of Reynolds’ superbly fleshed-out characters.
In crafting a story based on relationships, conversations and the construction of a grand journey, Reynolds sacrifices some pace, as Poseidon’s Wake can never be accused of being light, fast-paced reading, but it genuinely doesn’t matter, as the investment in the people involved more than makes up for the scarcity of cinematic set pieces.
It’s grand, involving and full of light and wonder. Poseidon’s Wake is one of the best sci-fi novels of the year.