Slow Bullets is a novella from Alastair Reynolds. The sci-fi is set at a time where humanity has expanded to very many planets but split into two. A war rages between the Central Planets and the ones of the Periphery.
The government uses a device embedded into its soldiers and people to record their identity and monitor them. At the start of the book Scur, a soldier for one side, is caught by war criminals for another and has a slow bullet implanted inside her – not safely, not as the government intended – as torture, shot into her body in the wrong place so it will kill her as it slowly wriggles into position. A slow bullet.
Painful death is adverted and Scur finds herself waking up on a prisoner transport starship. She’s not alone, though, among the war criminals which make up the inmates is Orvin her torturer.
This is just the start of the trouble for Scur. So many big ideas in the novella. No wonder its punchy.
Can these war criminals start afresh and make something of their new lives? Or will they tear themselves apart?
I’m not all too familiar with Alastair Reynolds works and wonder whether Slow Bullets is the first I’ve read of his work (I may have zoomed through a book many years ago in a reading binge) but based on the strength of this novella I predict Slow Bullets won’t be last encounter with the author. He creates characters that are believable and which quickly come to life. His universe feels real and expansive and yet the moments that matter are up close and personal. This is approachable sci-fi.
Slow Bullets explores questions of identity – are we the sum of our memories or defined by our current actions? What’s more dangerous? Ideas or bullets? Is reform and forgiveness possible? Ultimately, Slow Bullets asks whether humanity is doomed or whether there’s a chance to start afresh.
Disclaimer: My copy of Slow Bullets was provided for review. Alastair Reynolds, Tachyon Publications.