Moloko laughed the first time he heard my South African name, Majama: to stand, to stop, to wait. Moloko does not wait. Moloko acts. Moloko, a primary school principal in semi-rural post-Apartheid South Africa, is an ordinary person achieving the extraordinary. Alastair Reynolds’ latest artfully crafted science-fiction novel, Blue Remembered Earth, repeatedly conjured the image of Moloko in my mind: ordinary people empowered to achieve the extraordinary.
Blue Remembered Earth, set in a vivid near-future where interplanetary travel is a fledgling reality, unravels the mysteries of the Akinya family. The story centers on Geoffrey Akinya, a Zoologist studying African elephants who only wants to be left in peace but finds himself compelled to journey across the solar system in search of elusive answers to his deceased grandmothers enigmatic life. The journey unraveling a web of family secrets empowers both Geoffrey and the cast of supporting characters into inspiring representations of the people we can and want to be.
Blue Remembered Earth’s rich characterization distinguishes the novel. Reynolds fills his book with flawed individuals thrust into extraordinary events, who in themselves remain ordinary. The novel begins with people mercilessly buffeted by the whim of events beyond their control. The novel concludes with empowered individuals taking ownership over their lives and shaping events around them to their own ends. Reynolds transforms his characters from objects to subjects, principals to agents, caricatures to authentic embodiments. Empowered, competent, agents of our own destiny: these are the values we want to project into the world and Reynolds illuminates a path to do so.
Blue Remembered Earth’s characters embody my own transformation from Majama, one who waits, to Moloko, one who acts. I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Africa from 2008 to 2010, working with Moloko and a few dozen other unique teachers, parents, and community members. The strength and courage of those I served with empowered me to make an impact on the community I supported and give meaning and value to my life. Reading Blue Remembered Earth continually reminded me of my own personal journey of empowerment as flashes of these incredible individuals peeked through Reynolds’ characters.
The characters Reynolds devotedly paints on the fictional page are the same strong, passionate, and competent post-Apartheid South Africans I came to know and love in reality. Ordinary people like Moloko, transitioning from a black rural South African at the whims of an Apartheid era state with all the accompanying handicaps to an inspiring principal and community leader. Ordinary people building extraordinary learning communities, transforming the lives of their learners, and laying the foundations for a strong, vibrant, new South African identity. Ordinary people who inspired me to become the agent of my own destiny.
Like Moloko, the characters of Blue Remembered Earth are fundamentally ordinary. And like Moloko’s life, ordinarily lives are filled with the mundane and fail to move to the beat of Hollywood. In Blue Remembered Earth, ordinary can make for a painfully sluggish and unoriginal plot. The story takes the form of a straightforward quest narrative. While I respect the nuanced and detailed opportunity for character development Reynold’s fosters with his slow plot decisions, I am eager for a bit more drama and a faster pace. A few more contrived explosions and overblown dramatic moments would be to my taste.
Nevertheless, Reynolds crafts a realistic, unique, and detailed near-future solar system and sets a compelling cast of characters within. The universe of the book begs for further exploration and discovery and I am eager for the sequels, but the true beauty is in the evolving personalities Reynolds constructs. The characters of Blue Remembered Earth, like Moloko, inspire me to achieve the extraordinary in my ordinary life.
Pages: 512 FOA Pages: 2,209 (Total number of pages reported upon by Friends of Atticus)