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The Six Directions of Space by Alastair…

The Six Directions of Space

by Alastair Reynolds

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Revising my earlier opinion of this one. It should have SIX STARS.

A prized possession of mine is a limited signed edition of The Six Directions of Space in hardcover, and not just because it is a limited signed edition, my only signed Alastair Reynolds (to date; hope springs eternal while there is life, etc.), but because it is one of the coolest stories ever, and I do not engage in empty hyperbole there.

Three words. MONGOLS. IN. SPACE.

Yes, that's right, oh my blogettes, this story concerns the future that sprang from an alternate past in which the Mongol Empire did not fall apart after the death of Temujin, better known to history as Genghis Khan, but went on to conquer the entire world, which became known simply as Greater Mongolia. Sure, there are still pesky pockets of, e.g., Buddhists and Nestorian Christians and the odd Muslim here and there, but basically the Mongol culture, horses and all, dominated everything right up to and including humanity's journey to the stars.

A funny old thing, though, Mongols in space. The culture transmits to a space-born empire pretty well, if one can imagine people taking their steppe ponies with them on their spaceships (and hey, Reynolds has depicted a people who plan to take elephants into space with them, so why not ponies?) and still functioning without the Zero, which these Space Mongols still insist is a fruity Arab affectation they'll have no truck with, even though it makes their science and engineering a bit clunky and cumbersome. These are people who get drunk on fermented mare's milk and found a way to sing more than one note at a time, folks. They do stuff their own way. Even in space.

I'm ever astounded at how Reynolds managed to convey the scope and sweep, not only of a galactic Mongol Empire, but of what is essentially a multiverse, in just 85 tight pages.* And it's not just this empire he's describing, but its unique settlement of inhospitable worlds, like in this passage:

"There were no fixed communities on the moon. Instead, immense spiderlike platforms, mounted on six or eight intricate jointed legs, picked their way across the ever-shifting terrain in awesome slow motion."**

And oh, there's a tight and nifty little plot that still manages to convey a sense of grand scale, too. It involves a secret government agent, a woman named Yellow Dog (one of a series of Reynolds' ass-kicking female characters who would not pass a Bechdel test so much as beat the crap out of you -- literally or metaphorically -- for suggesting it to her) whose mission is to investigate a series of phantom intrusions into the empire's (found and scavenged, a la the Gateways in Frederick Pohls' Heechee books***) interstellar transport network, and who runs afoul of a petty official who turns out to be anything but -- and discovers some mind-blowing secrets about the way things really work out there.

Truly a marvel, this one.

*Anyone who accuses him of bloat obviously hasn't had a look at this story (or any of his short fiction for that matter).

**Shades again of Volyova's Spider Room on the Nostalgia for Infinity in Reynolds' Revelation Space universe.

***Thus perhaps a bit too neatly solving the problem of how a zero-less science and society would someday achieve faster-than-light travel, but I don't care. It's awesome. Did I mention it's Mongols in Space? It's Mongols in Space, people. Drop everything and take the time to listen to Dan Carlin's awesome multipart podcast on the Wrath of the Khans and imagine all of that in space, minus the diminishing/loss of empire bits. Would I want to live in that universe? Hell no. I wouldn't have been allowed to grow up, most likely. But I can admire them from afar, especially their women (Borte!). And cheer them on. And stuff. ( )
  KateSherrod | Aug 1, 2016 |
This short and interesting novella by Alastair Reynolds was something different for me. Although it seems like a scene from a larger space opera, it is an alternate history tale that works from the premise that Genghis Khan got his wish and brought the entire planet under his control. We are in the future, a Mongols in space future, and something is amiss on the fringe of the galactic empire. When our protaganist travels through space, she clearly hasn't forgotten her roots, as her horse travels with her. This unusual yarn was better than I expected and an entertaining tale as long as you didn't think too hard. The basic premise itself is a bit of a stretch and it would probably have worked better at a longer length with the fleshing out of some details. At the end I wished for more. That isn't a bad thing I guess. Still, entertaining enough as it is. ( )
  RBeffa | Jun 29, 2012 |
The only problem with reading novellas and short stories from authors who normally write in a sweeping and epic scope is that they sometimes don't downscale well. This could have been expanded easily into a 600 page novel, and the setting was big enough to allow for that. ( )
  ferdinand1213 | Feb 1, 2010 |
The Six Directions of Space is a new novella from Subterranean Press. It's set in an alternate future in which the Mongols have an interstellar empire, a result of their discovery of a mysterious alien interstellar network. The Mongol future adds an interesting spin to an idea that's been done before - Andrew M Stephenson's Nightwatch, William Barton & Michael Capobianco's White Light, and Sean Williams' Geodesica duology, all leap to mind. Having said that, The Six Directions of Space then takes off in an unexpected direction. ( )
  iansales | Apr 16, 2009 |
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