The Medusa Chronicles – Alastair Reynolds & Stephen Baxter

“Falcon would always remember the day he had started to dream of escaping into the sky.”

What if… the space race had gone a little differently, with a manned mission to Mars before the dawn of the 21st Century? Mankind could have spread throughout the solar system by now, terraforming planets and moons. What if, in this reality, life was discovered on Jupiter? Or chimpanzees were given a huge boost to intelligence? What relationship would such a society have to machines – would they be perhaps less ‘advanced’ that we are, for longer? Ah, but what happens when they decide to catch up?

Howard Falcon was the hero of Arthur C. Clarke’s 1971 novella, A Meeting with Medusa. Despite having been featured in several of his collections, I failed to track down a copy and so went into this modern sequel a little blind – whether or not that made a difference, I’m not sure. Perhaps it did, for while I eventually warmed to this centuries-spanning tale, I did find it very slow going to begin with.

A lot of that is, I think, to do with that span of time. Falcon’s cybernetic life is measured in centuries, as is the scope of the story. And so we skip-skip-skip from one relevant/entertaining vignette to another, never quite settling in before we’re skipping off again. It certainly made things harder for me.

However, eventually all of those individual moments in time come to have relevance as part of a bigger picture – and by then, I was pretty hooked!

Overall, The Medusa Chronicles has a lot to say about humanity and other forms of life – whether animal, machine, or something else. What I loved most, though, was the early stuff, postulating a different path that the space race and subsequent technology could have taken – thus neatly bypassing any datedness to the original work. There are some flashback ‘interludes’ to another event, set in the 1960s, which really tied in to this – although I did consider they didn’t wholly belong here, with the rest of the tale. They sort of do, perhaps, but you might have to think about that one!

Although there are numerous references to the original novella, I’d suggest it’s probably worthwhile but not necessary to have read it first. There is enough explanation of Falcon’s past adventures to never leave you scratching your head, wondering what some statement was about.

NetGalley eARC: ~336 pages / 68 chapters (inc. epilogues)
First published: 2016
Series: sequel to Arthur C. Clarke’s A Meeting with Medusa
Read from 9th April – 2nd May 2016

My rating: 7/10 – took its time to get going, but it got there in the end!

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