Friday, July 15, 2016

Slow Bullets, by Alastair Reynolds

Tachyon Publications, ISBN 9781616961930, June 2015

Scur has been a soldier in hard-fought, far-future war between the Central Stars and the Peripheral Stars. It has finally come to an end with the negotiation of a ceasefire, but not everyone is ready to stand down immediately. Scur, a soldier for the Peripheral Stars, meets up with Orvin, a soldier for the Central Stars--and a sadistic war criminal. He captures Scur, and shoots a "slow bullet" into her leg, set to move slowly and painfully to her heart, and kill her. They're interrupted by the arrival of peacekeeping forces, and Orvin flees. With no other options, Scur picks up an available knife, and begins to cut the bullet out of her leg before it can progress too far.

The next thing she knows, she's waking up in a hibernation pod on a starship, her leg is completely healed, and something is very, very wrong.
Caprice, a former cruise liner, has been converted to a prison ship. Most of the passengers are, or are supposed to be, war criminals of various kinds. Some are civilians, also criminals, war profiteers and such.

Still others, like Scur, are ex-soldiers or civilians who were never accused of any crime, added to the passenger contingent for no apparent reason.

They are, or were, headed for Tottori, where they would have been further processed for their prison destination.

Instead, the ship has clearly undergone some major failure. The hibernation pods are opening on no particular schedule, ship's crew and passengers alike emerging as individuals or small groups. Much of the ship's systems are not working.

Scur teams up with Prad, a crew technician, and they make alarming discoveries. NavNet, without which any jump is dangerous (assuming the ship can still jump), is beyond risky, They're in orbit around a planet in an ice age.

They discover they've been in suspension for perhaps as long as five thousand years, and the civilization they came from is gone.

Orvin is one of the war criminals among them, and he's in hiding.

The survivors need to build a working governing structure, see what they can fix of the ship's systems, find out whether they can skipjump to somewhere more promising.

But before they do any of that, the former enemies have to figure out how not to kill each other.

There's a lot going on here, and Reynolds handles it very well.

Highly recommended.

I received this story as part of the 2016 Hugo Finalists packet.