IN SHORT: Scur, an unwilling soldier in a war that has just ended peacefully, finds herself in a derelict prisoner transport filled with war criminals … from both sides of the war. And just to make things interesting, the enemy soldier who nearly tortured her to death is also on board.
WHAT IT IS: Slow Bullets is a tightly focused tale that moves forward at a brisk and entertaining pace. It is a satisfying story of survival mixed with an intriguing mystery. Just how did the prison ship Caprice end up disabled in the middle of nowhere? Both facets of the story are handled well.
WHAT IT IS NOT: If you’re looking for a grand epic that explores every nook and cranny of its expansive and detailed universe … look elsewhere. This story is lean and mean, and that choice feels right for the adventure told here. But don’t let the length fool you. Despite the novella format, Alastair Reynolds still fits in some very cool Big Ideas.
WHAT I THOUGHT: It’s been a while since I enjoyed an Alastair Reynolds story (novel, novella, or otherwise) this much. The plot moves forward at a consistently swift pace. The main character, Scur, is interesting and engaging. Her conflict with the war criminal Orvin is handled well and is brought to an enjoyable conclusion. In fact, the novella itself came to a much more satisfying and complete end than I would have expected, given its length. Reynolds even fits in a scene of the gruesome techno-horror he does so well, and I quite enjoyed that part too.
Now, that said, not everything is perfect. There were a few character moments that read a bit false to me. For example, the titular slow bullets (basically data storage devices injected into soldiers) were handled a bit awkwardly. They’re a sort of high tech dog tag containing information about each soldier and their activities during the war.
You see, the Caprice’s computers are in a bad way. They’re going corrupt, and a sizable chunk of the story revolves around how to preserve the most critical information so this motley crew can survive. And, as it conveniently turns out, each soldier has a hard drive stuck in their chest that can help save things like basic medicine, technical manuals, culturally significant literature, and so forth.
But when someone brings up this possibility, the soldiers throw a fit! Personally, if I had to choose between carrying a record of how many times I got shot or carrying recipes for life-saving medicines, I know which one I’d picked.
But, that minor criticism aside, I really enjoyed this book. Sometimes I’m in the mood for a galaxy spanning epic where the author shows exactly how every little piece of hardware works, and sometimes I hunger for a more compact and focused tale. Slow Bullets satisfies the latter craving in spades.