The Alexandrian

Pushing Ice is basically Alastair Reynolds’ attempt to take the sequels to Rendezvous with Rama, scratch off the serial numbers, and rewrite them so that they don’t suck as much.

In this, he succeeds. Although, honestly, that’s a pretty low bar to clear.

Warning: The spoilers in this reaction will contain deeper spoilers than most of my reactions. In general, I follow a policy of not spoiling content beyond the first 50 pages of the book. That will not be the case with Pushing Ice.

Isolating the strengths and weaknesses of the book is actually rather challenging. Reynolds lacks consistency throughout his narrative, often soaring to compelling heights only to crash back to mediocre depths.

For example, as a re-imagining of the Rama milieu, the first challenge for Pushing Ice is the creation of the Big Dumb Object (BDO). The initial conceptual strokes of the BDO are absolutely riveting: Without any warning, Janus — one of the icy moons of Saturn — suddenly starts accelerating out of the solar system. Unbeknownst to any of us, the entire moon had been masquerading as a spaceship for countless eons.

But when the main characters actually reach the BDO, the details are shoddy and underdeveloped. Reynolds paints with a broad and unfocused brush: We’re told repeatedly how “strange” and “enigmatical” Janus is, but we’re never shown any of the details necessary to really bring the place to life.

But then Reynolds turns it around again: The first BDO leads them to an even bigger BDO, and that BDO — and the larger mechanism it’s part of — is really fascinating. And the revelations of its true nature are not only continued until the end of the book, but beyond it (as I believe Reynolds is subtly hinting at something that even his own characters don’t realize).

One of the areas where Pushing Ice dramatically improves on the Rama sequels are the interpersonal dramas of the main characters. To put it succinctly: Instead of being derived from cheesy soap operas, they’re truthful and meaningful.

Even here, however, Reynolds has consistency problems. For example, the central drama of the novel revolves around the schisming friendship of Bella and Svetlana. Reynolds is attempting to create a dynamic in which two people can both vehemently disagree with each other and both be right from their own point of view.

And if he had actually pulled it off (as he comes tantalizingly close to doing), the result would be absolutely breathtaking.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. Largely because he resorts to both protagonists being inexplicably idiotic.

Sittuation #1:

SVETLANA: I think the company is hacking into our computer systems and altering the data. But I found a backup that they forgot to change. Here it is.

BELLA: Okay, I have my doubts. So what I’m going to do is tell the corporation exactly where the backup data is that you’re claiming they forgot to change is. Then I’ll wait awhile. Then I’ll go and check it to see if it says what you claim it says.

SVETLANA: Wait… what?

BELLA: My god! It no longer says what you claim it said! You’re lying to me!

Okay. That’s pretty bad. But it gets worse.

Situation #2:

BELLA: I’ve decided that you were right all along. Now that I believe you, I’m using the true version of the data that you brought to me to conclude that our only possible course of action is X.

SVETLANA: Well, I hate you. And so I think we should do not-X!

BELLA: You mean the course of action which, if you weren’t lying to me before, would mean our inevitable death?


And silliness ensues.

I mean, I’m obviously supposed to take it all seriously. But when you set up this Titanic Clash of Wills(TM) in which both characters are mentally deficient… well, it’s a little hard to take them seriously.

The end result of all this is a book which I found both compelling and frustrating in almost equal measures. It was a book that could both keep me up into the wee hours of the morning frantically turning pages, and simultaneously a book that would leave me slamming the covers shut in disgust.

In the final analysis, Pushing Ice is a thoroughly mediocre book that could have been (and should have been)¬†great. This puts it one step up the rung from the dreadful Rama sequels (which are thoroughly awful books that could have been great), but there’s still too much dross to dig through to find the good bits (which are, at times, very, very good).


Alastair Reynolds
Published: 2006
Publisher: Ace
Cover Price: $8.99
ISBN: 0441015026
Buy Now!

For additional comments on Pushing Ice, which include SPOILERS, click here.

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One Response to “What I’m Reading #72 – Pushing Ice”

  1. Justin Alexander says:


    I was thinking of picking up a book of Reynolds, or two. For those that have read both how does he compare to Dan Simmons (Hyperion, Endymion…)?
    Thursday, July 22, 2010, 6:23:35 PM

    Dave Cesarano
    I loved Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion. They were not just science-fiction novels, in my opinion, but grandiose literary homages to a wide variety of source-material. Endymion was alright, but not as tight and erudite as the first two. Rise of Endymion was a gigantic f—ing disappointment, nearly ruining the entire series for me singlehandedly. So, my opinion of Simmons is colored by my experiences with those books.

    I’ve only read Revelation Space by Reynolds (see my comment below). But that book was pretty good. Reynolds created a pretty interesting setting which feels like there is a lot more going on in it than he reveals in the text. There’s lots of coolness factor, and he throws enough hard-science in there to make it plausible. Short of doing a full-blown review of his book, though, I’d suggest you give that book a try. Simmons’ books are much more literary, though. Depends on what you’re after.
    Thursday, July 22, 2010, 6:44:39 PM

    Well I haven’t read Endymion parts yet, but the Hyperion part was pretty mindblowing for me. I think the best way to describe it is to say I felt like a ancient greek hearing the Illiad for the first time. Sorry to hear Endymion ends it with a off note. Well will probably finish the Hyperion cantos and then move to Reynolds.
    Thursday, July 22, 2010, 7:03:30 PM

    Dave Cesarano
    Take my own interpretation with a huge grain of salt. I reviewed them over at my blog, but there are some spoilers so beware. I try not to give away details, and just cover everything in a general manner. You may find the Endymion books to be fantastic and enjoyable as the Hyperion books. Indeed, there are parts of Endymion that kick so much butt its incredible. I wouldn’t recommend skipping the last two. I guess my criticism isn’t necessarily for the purpose of telling people whether or not to read the book, but rather to dig into what the author did right and what he did wrong (in my opinion).
    Friday, July 23, 2010, 11:49:12 PM

    Dave Cesarano
    I just finished reading his Revelation Space yesterday. I really, really enjoyed it, but I’ve still got to sit back and think pretty critically about it. I don’t like how neatly it ended, but based on your review, I’m guessing Reynolds does a sort of “progressive revelation” technique throughout his books, where it is kind of like a mystery, and he keeps giving little pieces of information that make you ask more and more questions. He also likes to use Chekhov’s gun… indeed, he has about 50 different Chekhov’s guns in Revelation Space, and they all get to fire somewhere in the last 100 pages or so. He also managed to weave about a dozen different seemingly unconnected plot threads together at the end. At times it felt a bit forced, but overall, the effect was pretty decent.

    Does Pushing Ice exhibit any of these characteristics, you think?
    Wednesday, July 21, 2010, 7:29:47 AM

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