Shimer College

January 10, 2014

Alastair Reynolds, Shimerian?

My verdict: yes.

Who is Alastair Reynolds? He writes science fiction, and I have read a range of what he has written. First, I have read a series that includes the terms revelation, absolution, and redemption in the titles of various novels. Who could fail to be drawn in by the ways the arc of his series “redeems” or, perhaps better, reframes, the narrative arc of aspects of Christian history?

More crucially, I recently read House of Suns. Without in any way divulging the plot of the space-opera-ish novel, I will say this: I truly enjoyed this book and it made me think about writing here, on Evocations, a blog devoted to higher education. 

Partly, this is for some silly reasons: there is a major aspect of the plot which has to do with “shatterlings” – aka clones – that disperse across the galaxy to collect information and experiences. I love the word “shatterlings” (are all Shimerians actually shatterlings in some sense?). But, what is truly amazing is the ways in which Reynolds points to the complexity of information, and the various ways in which information and knowledge and memory are distinct from one another and related. As an author, Reynolds does not engage in any didactic asides and is always engaging the reader in his tale. Thus the thematic emphasis on the ethics of information collection, information withholding, and censorship reach you in very subtle and important ways. In many ways, the novel raises ethical issues around these themes and identifies a whole range of kinds of information collection as well as potential ways that such information might change those who “hold” it.

In addition, the novel (as all of Reynolds’ work, actually) directs our attention to the relation of machine and human culture (extending both beyond what is today’s experience thereof). By doing so, Reynolds does make us all think – again, without a heavy hand – about the ways we all (as I sometimes say) outsource our memories and more. 

So: is this enough for Reynolds to be a Shimerian? I would also bring forward the following evidence: (a) he has a (very) vivid imagination capable of communicating extraordinary ideas through the written word; (b) he has a PhD in astronomy and was employed by the European Space Agency as an astrophysicist; and (c) he lives in Wales. At least two of these facts (perhaps all three) simply make me say even more directly: my verdict is yes. Yours?