Literature / On the Steel Breeze
The second book in Alastair Reynolds
' Poseidon's Children
trilogy, this book follows three members of a later generation of the Akinya family.
Chiku Akinya, the niece of Blue Remembered Earth
's protagonist Geoffrey Akinya, has herself cloned twice, then "synchronized" in such a way that she and her clones are identical on a physiological and psychological level, with no way of knowing who the "original" was. Chiku Red is sent out to rendezvous with Winter Queen
, Eunice Akinya's interstellar ship; Chiku Green boards a Generation Ship
intent on colonizing Crucible, the mysterious world discovered in Blue Remembered Earth
; Chiku Yellow stays on earth.
Tropes within On the Steel Breeze:
- As You Know: Much of the early conversations between Mecufi en Chiku Yellow serves to set up Chiku's backstory.
- And I Must Scream: When Chiku Yellow's body is being controlled by Arachne, she's still aware of everything.
- Ambiguous Gender: Travertine is consistently addressed with non-standard pronouns such as "ve". This is never explained, though a comment from Word of God says they're intended to be gender-neutral.
- Arbitrary Maximum Range: Arachne' weapons are mentioned to have some sort of threshold the holoships need to cross for them to be within range. This despite the fact that it can easily accelerate slugs to enough speed to escape the planet's gravity, and the trajectory of the holoships is known.
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Played straight in some cases, but there are other examples of AI that are more benign.
- Alien Abduction: Chiku and Arachne are beamed up into a Watchkeeper at some point, and will stay with them in exchange for the other colonists' safety.
- Alien Arts Are Appreciated: It's still unclear what the Mandala is, much less if it is art, but its beauty is repeatedly mentioned by the novel's characters.
- Brain Transplant: June Wing has a collection of bodies and has herself transplanted into whichever is more convenient for the task at hand.
- Clone by Conversion: The three Chikus are partly the result of this. The original Chiku cloned herself the old-fashioned way, but for perfect duplicity all three clones were then given identical mental imprints.
- Colony Drop: Crucible is at the receiving end of those.
- Colony Ship: The holoships are mostly self-sufficient, though there is an exchange of more advanced technology and manufacturing capacity between them.
- Contagious A.I.: Arachne is everywhere.
- Curse of Babel: The aug, which supplies instantaneous translation to people who don't speak the language, stops working near the end of the book
- Cyborg: Most humans have cybernetic implants. Also the Tantors.
- Descriptively-Named Species: The Watchkeepers are pretty much that, though they get a bit more active near the end.
- Digital Avatar: A standard method of communication is through a projected avatar.
- Emotion Bomb: A non-violent example. People formulate "motes", which take a specific emotional imprint and release it to the user upon breaking. This is used to convince people of sincere intents.
- Family Business: While the Akinya empire no longer seems to be as omnipresent as in the first book, their involvement in many early space exploration technologies still makes them a powerful family.
- Generation Ship: The holoships, though due to medical advances very few people actually die, and most who originally boarded are expected to still be alive when the ships reach Crucible.
- Gone Horribly Right: The Evolvarium on Mars. Set up as a secluded area to research Mechanical Evolution, the robots evolved a bit too well and soon took over the whole planet.
- Grew Beyond Their Programming: Arachne is an artilect that controls the vast array of telescopes and sensors that eventually discovered Crucible and the Mandala. She captures signals indicating that, as an AI, she is at risk of being snuffed out by humans, and goes to extraordinary lengths to prevent that.
- Human Popsicle: The skipover procedure.
- Ignored Expert: Travertine is this to most colonists, but is also being used for behind-the-scenes research that would be forbidden under the Pemba accord.
- Immortal Procreation Clause: Averted. People are practically immortal but there seems to be no problem with reproduction. Of course, people can now easily migrate beyond the earth if it becomes crowded.
- Immune to Mind Control: Chiku Red, after she is revived by the aquatics, due to her not having aug implants.
- Imported Alien Phlebotinum: (Post-)Chiseba Physics. It's not really mentioned in this novel, but the first book in the series makes it clear that it's based on some kind of ancient alien technology.
- Meanwhile, in the Future...: Sort of. The story cuts from Chiku Green to Chiku Yellow. Chiku Green's messages took decades to arrive on earth due to the vast distance between the holoships and the planet, so events appear to naturally follow each other even though there are huge time gaps.
- Mechanical Evolution: The Evolvarium on Mars.
- Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: Mostly Physics Plus: Chibesa Physics (and Post-Chibesa Physics, later) are needed for less-than-light-speed propulsion, but most other technology is an extrapolation of what exists in the beginning of the 21st century. Then again, Chibesa Physics are left vague enough that it skirts World of Phlebotinum at times.
- Neural Implanting: Semi-ubiquitous, though the aquatics are less enthusiastic about it, as it makes people susceptible to and dependent on intervention by the Mechanism.
- Neo-Africa: Less pronounced than in the first book of the series, but it's still there in the background.
- People Puppets: The Mechanism has the ability to take over someone's body through their implants (or euthanize them). Through this functionality, Arachne takes over Chiku Yellow's body at the end of the story.
- Perfect Pacifist People: Humanity likes to think of itself as this. It's subverted bit by bit as the story progresses.
- Pronoun Trouble: Travertine, who is the only character to be addressed with non-standard pronouns.
- Robotic Reveal: Eunice. Less of a reveal for those who read the first book.
- Sapient Ship: The Watchkeepers are certainly big enough to play the part, and apparently it is possible to travel in them.
- Starfish Aliens: The Watchkeepers are thousands of kilometres long and experience 5000 years as "a short while". They're also synthetic, but sentient.
- Stay with the Aliens: Chiku Green and Eunice go with the Watchkeepers, at the end.
- Sufficiently Advanced Aliens: It's not clear what exactly the Watchkeepers are, but they seem to be this.
- Sunken City: Venice is mentioned to be this in an offhand comment, due to global warming.
- Talking Animal: The Tantors, although they're not so much talking as texting.
- The Ageless: It's said that the prolongation process doesn't make people immortal, but death has become exceedingly rare since its introduction.
- Time Abyss: The Watchkeepers are mentioned to possibly be millions of years old.
- Translator Microbes: Many depend on the "aug" to communicate with others who don't know their language. Becomes problematic towards the end of the book, when the aug stops working.
- Virtual Ghost: Chiku Green isn't dead, but her memory imprints take this form when they can't integrate into Chiku Yellow's. The same happens vice versa when Chiku Yellow sends her imprint to the holoship.
- We Are as Mayflies: Humans can live for centuries, but they still can't hold a candle to the Watchkeepers, who operate on another level of time altogether.