Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in return for an honest review.
I fired up the ol’ kindle app for this book expecting one of the vast, Wagnerian space opera novels that made Reynolds’ name back in the day. I mean, with a plot that starts with an unjustly-conscripted soldier named Scur being captured (after the official end of a vast war) and tortured by an enemy fighter unwilling to stop fighting, only to wake up some time later on board a slowly-decaying prison transport orbiting a planet that no-one on board (including her former captor) recognises… that’s what you write, right?
Well, not so much in this case. For starters, Slow Bullets is short – I blew through it in about four hours. It also has none of the extensive cast of characters, exotic settings, gothic imagery or pyrotechnical destruction that typified the Revelation Space novels. In fact, what you get here is a very thoughtful story about memory – not nostalgic recollection, but information and the recording and transmission thereof.
In the short space of the story, Reynolds touches on forgetting-as-forgiveness, memory-as-identity, the role of religion in war and peace, the relative importance of cultural symbols versus technical detail and the emptiness of revenge. I’ve probably thought about the themes the book brings up for at least as long as I spent reading it, which is always a sign of well-written science fiction.
It’s not an example of perfection in genre fiction, by any means. There’s a sequence after the emotional climax of the story that seems completely unnecessary, and given the minimalism of the rest of the book, I’m surprised it wasn’t cut. I also found myself frustrated by the flatness of the characters compared to Reynolds’ earlier work – and especially compared to the tantalisingly sketched details of the background to the story, of which I would happily have seen more. I was mollified by the explanation provided (obliquely) right at the end, and the way in which it tied into the theme, or I’d have dropped another star off the final rating.
All in all, though, I’d have no hesitation in recommending Slow Bullets to anyone.