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A book review by Steven Wu
August 20, 2003
|Rating: 9 (of 10)|
It's a whopper of an opening for a whopper of a novel. Reynolds is not a fantastic writer, but he is effortlessly competent. Chasm City's seamless narrative takes us across three separate storylines: one concerning Tanner's pursuit of his victim, a second that explains why Tanner is pursuing his victim, and a third that deals with a legendary spaceman whose ancient crime has still not been forgotten. While the second story occasionally lags, Reynolds generally maintains the reader's interest for all three storylines; it is a testament to his skill that at the end of every chapter, you would rather hear this storyline continued than return to a storyline that you were begging to have continued just one chapter earlier.
The eponymous Chasm City, the site of Tanner's story, is a cursed town. As the prologue informs us, a curious plague several years back began infecting machines in Chasm City--even the nanomachines that were present in most people's bodies. The result in such a technologically advanced was chaos. Now Chasm City is a twisted, hellish landscape made of formerly mechanical buildings warped beyond recognition, often trapping its inhabitants in its walls. It is to Chasm City that Tanner pursues his victim, after miraculously surviving the episode with the nuclear bomb. For the most part Tanner's story is a deftly done detective novel, with several twists and turns and false ends, and plenty of suspects. But Reynolds livens up the traditional form with plenty of original ideas and some nail-biting action scenes. Even better, Reynolds almost never allows his characters to descend into idiocy: enough bad things happen when they're acting intelligently that Reynolds can avoid that common error.
The second story concerns Cahuella, Tanner's former employee. Cahuella is a ruthless, amoral, yet utterly charismatic leader of a weapons-smuggling gang. Tanner is his right-hand man, until one crucial day, when something terrible happens and Tanner begins his pursuit of his victim. This story, while as competently executed as the other two, is somewhat less exciting; eventually, it becomes interesting solely due to its connections with its surrounding stories.
The third story is a masterful telling of the origins of Sky Haussman, the legendary spaceman whose infamous crime will eventually bequeath Sky's Edge its name. For some reason I found this storyline particularly enthralling, perhaps because it takes place on a generation ship (in which Sky is in the third and final generation). Reynolds perfectly captures the sense of isolation, claustrophobia, and responsibility felt by the tiny group of engineers on these ships who are caretakers for the much larger population of frozen colonists. Though I can't explain how, Reynolds manages to convey the sheer emptiness and distance of space in this storyline--and this is even before he begins delving into the fascinating character of Sky Haussman. Interestingly, this third storyline is patterned as a tragedy: you find out in the first chapter (I think) what the conclusion of this third storyline is, yet you are nevertheless morbidly enthralled as you watch the tragedy unfold.
Of course, all is not perfect. While Reynolds for the most part presents an exciting, page-turning narrative, there are occasional plot twists that seem superfluous, even random. And the frenetic opening pace of the novel gradually slows near the end, with the introduction of some very bizarre characters (you'll know them when you see them). While these characters are not strictly inconsistent with what came before, their sudden appearance is puzzling and a little disconcerting, to say the least.
Nevertheless, despite these minor flaws, Chasm City is an enjoyable science-fiction adventure that I highly recommend. While Chasm City presents a complete story (or two, or three) in itself, the ending clearly begs for a direct sequel. I, for one, can't wait.
Steven Wu's Book Reviews