Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds
Posted July 16, 2015on:
published June 2015
where I got it: purchased new
After a few sluggish, slow reads, it was such a pleasure to pick something up and be sucked in right away. At just shy of 200 pages, Slow Bullets is a fast read, and paced absolutely perfectly. Not a moment feels slow, nor does anything feel rushed. Other than the first segment, Scur is telling her story to someone, someone who knows how her story ends. It’s as if she’s an aged grandmother telling the neighborhood kids about what happened once upon a time. The person she’s talking to knows the sordid details, but the reader will have to wait until Scur gets to those details in her own time. Don’t worry, she will. Eventually, she’ll tell you everything.
Scur was a soldier in an interstellar war, and just as a ceasefire is being announced she’s been captured by the opposing side. Captured by a sadist, he shoots a slow burrowing bullet into her leg. When it reaches her heart, she’ll die.
Instead, she wakes up on a prison ship. The situation is pretty bleak – one crew member is still alive, the ship’s AI has gone wonky, and no one seems to be in control. Remember the cult sci-fi movie Cube? The first half of Slow Bullets feels quite a bit like that – with people asking what they did to deserve being on the prison ship, trying to figure out where they’re going, trying to find out if they will ever see their families again, trying to understand how to fix the ship’s computer.
So, what are a few hundred bloodthirsty soldiers aboard a prison ship to do? This is a ship with no captain, no functioning navigation, and they planet they are orbiting doesn’t look familiar.
I really loved Slow Bullets. The pacing is spot-on perfect, I liked how Scur and many of the other characters seemed reluctant to expose anything about themselves. Some readers may view it as flimsy characterization, but to me there is a line between flimsy characterization and a character telling the reader at the onset: I’m not sure if I trust you yet. Scur prefers to warm up to people before she tells them about herself. About how her conscription was meant to be a punishment for her father. About how she doesn’t believe in The Book, even though she was raised by religiously observant parents. From what the other soldiers mention, and Scur’s conversations with the crew-member she befriends, we learn the interstellar war had religious underpinnings. Two cultures with two similar holy books. But different enough that each side decided they were right, the other side was wrong, and the heretics needed to die. Hmmm… sounds familiar, actually.
Let me explain a little bit about the title of the book, because at first I really didn’t like it. The “Slow Bullets” are data capsules that are the size and shape of bullets that are injected into every soldier, no matter which side of the conflict they serve on. Basically, they are digital dog-tags that carry not only identifying information, but the person’s family history, military history, everything they’d ever known or done. Scur can pull up the photo of her parents any time she wants. She can relive her childhood, if only in her mind. She’s got nothing to hide, but there are certainly other soldiers who would prefer their military records stay private and sealed.
There were also some fun twists in the plot. I was sure certain characters had certain identities, and I was proven wrong each time. When I thought the plot was going to go in one direction, it went in a completely different one. And then there is *the* twist. The one that made Slow Bullets so effortlessly genius and impossible for me to put down. It’s a twist I’ve run into before, and I can’t get over how much I liked the way Reynolds presented it.
Once the final twist is revealed, the story takes a fascinating turn, one that Scur hints at and that I’d really love to talk about, but I don’t want to spoil anything. All I can tell you is that it has to do with creative methods of transferring information and coming to terms with reality. Wow, that phrase sounded really boring, didn’t it?
Slow Bullets is a short novel I see myself rereading again and a again. This is only the second or third book I’ve read by Reynolds, but my enjoyment of this one makes me want to start collecting his titles. If he chose to expand this into a full length novel, I’d be a happy camper indeed!