Revenger by Alistair Reynolds

Out here, people struggle to get by with the most basic technologies. A ship would bring you work, a gun would help you keep it. A captain’s goal was simple: find a crew, find a job, keep flying.
— Shepard Book's opening monologue from Firefly

Those Joss Whedon words haunt every author venturing out into the black with a tale of a ship, a crew and adventure to be had.  To be fair, Whedon was building upon the bones of others going all the way back to Robert Lewis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott.  But in these modern times, Whedon's shadow looms large.  Chris Wooding's Kitty Jay series took a happy nod at Serenity and her crew, threw in a daemon or twenty and set a happy sail over four brilliant books.  The reason I evoke Frey and his Kitty Jay is that while I was reading Revenger, my mind kept coming back to a crew haunted by a pirate with ulterior motives.  Still, despite that, I really enjoyed my first voyage into Alastair Reynolds' universe.

Reynolds is an former scientist at ESA and his writing is at the hard edge of science fiction.  So, with that in mind, we have Revenger.  The tale is told as the first person reminiscence of Fura Ness, an upper-middle class daughter of a down on his luck father.  The family are broke, having lost money on an investment on a mission to a bauble, that should have contained artefacts from bygone days and quoins, the currency of the current Occupation.  Fura escapes, mostly against her will, under the influence of her big sister Adrana.  They sign on under Captain Rackamore on the Monetta's Mourn in order to save the family from bankruptcy.  Bending the odd law to get them both on board, Adrana and Fura are trained up to be bone readers, linking into a big actual skull of something long dead and communicating with others hooked into other skulls.  These skulls are used for more than communicating, they can listen in on ship-to-ship comms if need be too.  So, for a crew looking for intelligence on the next score, they are invaluable and those who can hook in are valuable crew members.  Adrana and Fura learn their trade and Rackamore heads to their bauble were hopefully things will be that will pay the bills.  It is here they encounter the bogey-woman, Bosa Sennen.

All of this happens in the first hundred or so pages but, thankfully, Reynolds hasn't shot his bolt early.  To the author's considerable credit, exposition is kept to a minimum.  As we have Fura telling us the tale, this is just how things are to her and she expects us to take them as such.  Explanation is weaved in to keep your from getting lost, but the considerable physics is kept to the point where it all just works and doesn't get in the way of the tale.  While it is the tale I have issues with (old tropes rehashed here and there and not always polished anew) the proof is in the telling and Reynolds tells it very well.  He makes a bold narrative choice early on which you have to applaud.  While you can kind of see which way the photons are blowing and the dialogue is rather more Long John than it really needs to be, you find rather quickly that you are invested in Fura and that you are entertained with each turn of the page.  That Reynolds doesn't feel the need to bog you down in the minutiae of the worlds he has created means that the central character can just take you by the tin hand and lead you forward.  This is the signature of an author on top of his game.  I'm Alastair Reynolds will be returning to his heroine and I will definitely be looking forward to see where Fura heads next.

Reveneger by Alastair Reynolds is published by Gollancz and is out now.