IN SHORT: Earth is a dead world, consumed by nanomachine swarms humanity thought it could control. But a second Earth has been found at the end of a wormhole, a mid-twentieth century Earth where World War II never happened.
WHAT IT IS: Alastair Reynolds once again shows his prowess at creating vivid and unique worlds where technology is both awe-inspiring and terrifying. The frozen post-nanocaust wastes of the future Earth feel real and very, scarily possible. Likewise the dueling cultures of the Slashers and the Threshers are equally intriguing, and the wormhole nexus they fight over is a fresh take on the concept.
WHAT IT IS NOT: Characters are not, for lack of a better phrase, Alastair Reynolds strong point. They move the plot forward, but I never found myself rooting for them. Worse, I found the main character, Verity Auger, annoying. About half of the novel takes place in an alternate past (kind of), so a healthy chunk of the novel is spent away from those fascinating worlds I mentioned above.
WHAT I THOUGHT: I have a love-hate relationship with Alastair Reynolds. The worlds he creates are some of the coolest I’ve ever come across in science fiction. I keep buying his books because they are flush with unique and incredible ideas.
Why, oh why, does he populate them with mediocre characters?
Down-on-her-luck archeologist Verity Auger of the United States of Near Earth has a lot of bad attitude, so much so that it’s hard to root for the character. A lot of her interactions don’t ring true to me, like how she mouths off at a judge early in the novel. It feels like attitude for the sake of attitude and not something that has organically come about due to the character’s development.
The other main character, Wendell Floyd, fairs better. He’s an expatriated American living in an alternate version of 1950s Paris, France. There’s a strong Casablanca noir influence going through the book, and I suppose if I had bought a noir detective novel, that would be fine. But I wanted a science fiction novel about a nanomachine holocaust, and I found myself anxious to get back to the meaty world building that is Alastair Reynolds’ forte.
Unfortunately, with half the novel taking place in a setting I wasn’t in the mood for, one passable main character, and one I flat-out didn’t like, Century Rain really started to drag for me. It was a difficult book to finish.
I always feel a little guilty and conflicted about criticizing a published author when I’m still working my way towards that same goal. However, bad characters are bad characters, and they ruin what could have been a really cool novel for me. The post-nanocaust Earth is a cool and disturbing vision of the future. I just wish the novel had been more about it and less of a noir detective story.
VERDICT: Not Recommended.