Disclaimer: I received an advance reader's copy (ARC - Uncorrected Manuscript Proof) of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own, and no monetary compensation was received for this review.
(The book is due to be published on June, 2015; review written on 18/04/2015).
Fiction is fashioned from the stuff of people's lives, and yet the characters in SF are seldom full-fledged people. Most of time they become stand-ins for a creed, an attitude, or a way of life. This is the crux of the matter when it comes to good SF. It lies at the forefront on why SF has so often been dismissed as sub-literary. Why is that so? Traditional fiction is mainly concerned with character. It reveals character by putting emphasis in its development, its critical moments of awareness, its recognition of self. It reveals character through its duality on life and processes. Mundane fiction's purpose on the other hand is for us to marvel at the complexity of human nature. What about the characters in SF? Is it necessary for a SF story to have rounded characters? I'm not sure. Rounded, full-fledged characters might well detract from the story being told. In mainstream fiction a rounded character is its raison d'etre. In a SF story, the situation is far from our ordinary experience.
Verisimilitude is not what's at stake here but rather, as in the theatre, the suspension of disbelief. SF must provide reasons for the suspension of disbelief (unlike Fantasy), because the fantastic must be rationalized. At a very basic level, I don't read SF to become better acquainted with real people; the Estrangement, and the Otherness are what draws me into SF (I've written at length about the capacity of SF to make us "believe" in strange worlds – vide my review of Jo Walton's book). And this leads us to Reynolds fictionalized worlds.
This is the first time I'm reviewing one of his works.
"Slow Bullets" seems to me a departure from his usual tackle on SF. Less Stapledonian in scope and landscape, but trying to be more character-driven. Due to the form chosen (novella), this approach was not entirely successful. In today's SF market we are used to be spoon fed with hundreds of pages of narrative, character development, prose and a sense of aggrandizement. With this story, Reynolds chose a middle ground between the economy of the short story and the enjoyment of rounding out characters and plot over huge chunks of text. Without room to explore possible ramifications, and the other characters (e.g., Prad) it suffers from the need to rush through events without properly explaining them. When I say "explaining", I'm really talking about the need to "show-not-tell" more story.
We can feel the story wanting to burst from the constraints imposed on it by the novella-form. The bigger the better? Not necessarily. But is this particular instantiation, I think the Story would have been better served by using the longer form. Despite all these shortcomings, this is probably Reynold's best work to date.
SF = Speculative Fiction.