The question of whether Alastair Reynolds’s sci-fi is reminiscent of Robert Charles Wilson (or vice-versa) is largely moot, because it just is. Same goes for the technological depth of his civilizations and the universe of wormholes. Whether it’s just as emotionally effective is a good question. Because, that’s where he does turn up short.
Century Rain is of that particular sci-fi genre where the myriad twisting and turning of the plot will get you in two worlds; one, an alternate-history earth in the 1950′s and another a nanotech devastated one three centuries later. The particularly clever bit is operating both at the same time (nearly) without involving any sort of time-travelling teleportation plotting. The plot setting is so prosaic, so near-science that it seems almost plausible.
On to the protagonists, the scene is that of an earth devastated due to technologies beyond the control of man (thankfully, not a nuclear war scenario). This devastation has resulted in two divergent groups being formed; the Threshers & the Slashers. Taken simply, one is a luddite (or a near approximation) & the other says forget the past & look to the future. The conflict between the two parties is an uneasy peace when our protagonist, an archaeologist, Verity Auger gets shanghaied into going to the alternate history earth (E2) because there seems to be trouble brewing. On the E2, we get to see a bass-player musician cum detective, Wendell Floyd, investigate the most peculiar scene of murder of a young woman who had recently come to Paris from US. Or had she. That is the beginning of the plot in a nutshell.
As I said earlier, the science behind Reynold’s book is solid. By solid, I mean it’s a fairly easy to spot genre half-science. But the way the science is integrated into the plot makes for pretty decent reading and on the whole the story looks good. And it better look good because that’s the only thing the book has going for it.
The character prose is just way too long. On my PRS500, this book came to about 1236 pages and I definitely got the feeling that somewhere between 350-450 words, a decent editor could have made it into a halfway exciting novella (if not a complete book) which would have rocked & rolled. What we get is just incessant plodding from one location to the other, easily anticipated plot-twists and nerdy half references to Casablanca & SlashDot. In spite of having a cool doomsday device, the endgame seems flat and without the gut of his other Revelation Space books
My rating on the book is 5/10. The poor characters and plotting let the book down majorly. Atleast it can be read independent of any other book in the series. That’s a mercy.