For anyone who thinks science fiction has evolved from the pulp era, specifically the ‘anything goes’ mindset regarding prose, plotting, and structure, I offer Turquoise Days, Alastair Reynolds’ 2002 novella set in the Revelation Space universe.
Sisters, Naqi and Mani, live on a small research vessel hovering above the oceans of the planet Turquoise, studying the seemingly sentient waters. Best friends yet in competition for a prestigious university position, one night while trolling above a particularly dense patch of ocean life they notice a strange spot in the water is shadowing their vessel. The pair decide to take a closer look, and slip into the water with diving suits. Trouble is, only one sister returns. In the years that follow, the surviving sister gets the university position, but has all her best laid science plans put on hold as an Ultra ship visits their planet. The mystery of who the creatures in the ocean’s waters are is revealed, but under circumstances she’d rather have avoided given the conspiracy unleashed.
I have my issues with Alastair Reynolds’ writing, and in Turquoise Days many are on open display. My first complaint is how obvious the writing process is. I’m not a professional writer, but the fact the narrative is so transparent does not allow me to immerse myself. Fingers, strings, and hands all too often on stage, I can’t enjoy the puppet show. A second major complaint is the lack of credible plotting. Yes, this is ‘big concept’ science fiction, but even it needs to stick close enough to plausibility for the reader to be able to suspend disbelief. But there remain a couple of plot turns in Turquoise Days that escalate irrationally—a real problem in a plot-centric novella. Exasperating the problem is a backstory/conspiracy theory that comes crashing down onto the climax. Interrupting the suspense, the grand info dump intertwined with the final action deflates drama and tension. Reynolds would have been better served to hint at, or vaguely introduce some elements of that massive backstory in the early going so as to warm readers up at the conclusion. As it stands, the first chapter is disconnected, as are major chunks of the final. But I digress...
In the end, Turquoise Days is sub-par story that, while written in the Revelation Space universe, does not require prior knowledge of the series to read. Reynolds not varying his style from the novels, readers who enjoyed Revelation Space, Redemption Ark, Absolution Gap et al. will have no problems being served more of the same dish in Turquoise Days. It is planetary drama of simple aim that easily could have come from the pen of Golden Age writers whose names have not survived time, and a result the cover art may be its most positive aspect. Readers seeking well written, credible material will need to look elsewhere.