Slow Bullets, by Alastair Reynolds
(NetGalley provided a copy of this novella in exchange for an honest review)
Slow Bullets, a fast paced novella from space opera king Alastair Reynolds, sees a prisoner of war ship malfunction and fall adrift in space. Soldiers from both sides of the war awake from suspended animation to discover that much more time has passed than they bargained for, and the only links they have to their pasts are the slow bullets contained within them.
Despite its novella form, Slow Bullets immediately strikes the reader as one small part of a much larger story. The narrator, Scur, tells the story through carvings made on a wall, and her narrow viewpoint means much is left undiscussed or only referred to in passing. Much larger questions remain by the end of the novella: how much time has passed? What became of humanity as the novella’s characters knew it? What were the religious differences that caused the war? What is the Sickening? All of this leaves the reader wanting much more.
As a standalone work, the pace of Slow Bullets is its biggest asset. Scur moves quickly from realisation to uniting the ship’s inhabitants to tracking down the war criminal who is to blame for her being stuck on the ship to concocting the plan to have her revenge. It hits the reader thick and fast, so much so that too many questions are left unanswered. Scur as the narrator gives little away, although indications that she may not be entirely reliable—her slow bullet malfunctions—keep the reader guessing until the conclusion.
Slow Bullets is a good novella that is both strengthened and weakened by its length. Reynolds continues to be able to mesh accepted scientific theory with imaginative fiction and his characters are improving as individuals. He just needs to decide how he wants a story to spin out in its own terms, rather than constantly nodding at grander plans.