Below the jump, there be spoilers through the end of Alastair Reynolds’ Chasm City.
The last time I wrote about Chasm City, I complained that “it’s entirely unclear why we’re supposed to be emotionally invested in this society, or societies.” This time out, I have a more specific complaint: I don’t actually understand what they advantage was to Sky and his ship of beating the rest of the fleet by a couple of months. Given that the story of Sky’s crime is the crux of the novel, and that by the end of the novel, we’re supposed to sympathize, to at least a certain extent, with him, the fact that Reynolds fails to communicate the thing we’re supposed to see as his rationale through his perspective seems to me to be disastrous for the novel.
Reynolds is pretty clear about this. All the Santiago gets by beating the rest of the fleet to Journey’s End is “nascent settlements.” And those are quickly overwhelmed once the other ships arrive. It’s not clear that the folks on the Santiago have any sort of long-term advantage over their rivals in the nastily brutish societies that the novel traverses now. It’s not even clear how the initial society produced the mess that the characters operate in.
So how are we supposed to react to this? Are we supposed to sympathize with Sky because he did something terrible but great? Are we supposed to feel odd about sympathizing with Sky because he did something ambitious and terrible and turned out to be wrong? Chasm City isn’t subtle, but it doesn’t make clear how we’re supposed to feel about the characters or the events either. And at the end of the day, I didn’t really end up feeling anything at all.