Author announcement: Alastair Reynolds looks on the bright side in “The Water Thief”

10 Feb

There’s a school of thought which holds that science fiction has become overly pessimistic in recent years. Alastair Reynolds agrees. That might come as a surprise to many, since his decade-long Revelation Space sequence of blockbusters – which set the bar for modern space opera – is so dark as to be almost Gothic.

But Reynolds’ latest novel, Blue Remembered Earth, is – of all things – a utopia. At least, that’s where his world seems to be heading, as a technologically resurgent Africa leads an older, wiser, post-recession humanity to the stars. His exclusive new story for Arc 1.1, “The Water Thief”, is set in that book’s world and shares its mood:

“Road repair,” Prakash declares grandly, as if this is meant to stir the soul. “Central Lagos. You’ve done that kind of thing before.”

“No thanks. Pay is shit and a monkey could do it.”

“Window cleaning. Private art museum, Cairo. They have some gala opening coming up, but their usual ‘bot has broken.”

“It’s years since I cleaned windows.”

“Always a tricky customer, Soya. People should be less choosy in life.” He emits a long nasal exhalation like the air being let out of a tyre. “Well, what else have we. Bioremediation, Black Sea. Maintenance of algal bloom control and containment systems.
Cleaning slime from pumps, in other words. I scoff at the paltry remuneration. “Next.”

“Underwater inspection, Gibraltar bridge. Estimated duration eight hours, reasonable pay, at the upper end of your skills envelope.”

“And I must fetch my daughter from school in three hours. Find me something shorter.”

A deceptively simple tale of workers and employers, “The Water Thief” is set in a future that might be hard-scrabble enough and not at all fair, but is about as far from a science fiction dystopia as it is possible to get.    

“Something in his face makes me think he can be trusted.

“You can’t understate the value of that, here in the refugee camp. Not that they call it that. This is a “Resource and Relocation Assistance Facility”. I have been here six years now. My daughter is twelve; she barely remembers the outside world. Eunice is a good and studious girl, but that will only get you so far. Both of us need something more. Prakash tells me that if I can accrue enough proficiency credits, we might be relocated.

“I believe Prakash. Why wouldn’t I?”

Reynolds’s astute, uncynical answer to this question plays itself out across the planet and beyond in Arc 1.1, available in late February 2012 through Zinio for iPhones, iPads, Android devices, Windows PCs and Mac computers, and on Kindle.

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