Book containing Diamond Dogs and Turquoise Days by Alastair Reynolds
The novella “Diamond Dogs” by Alastair Reynolds was published for the first time in 2001.
In Chasm City, Richard Swift is contacted by his old friend Childe Roland, who was given up for dead for over a century and a half. He hasn’t even have time to recover from the surprise that Roland proposes him to be part of a group that wants to explore an artificial alien structure, the Blood Spire a mysterious tower found on a distant planet.
Richard meets the other members of the group, among which is his ex-wife Celestine. However, he he doesn’t remember her because he had the memories of the period of their marriage blocked. They travel to the planet where the structure is located and around it there are the remains of other explorers. The Spire contains a series of rooms and in each there is a test that requires an answer to enter the next room. A wrong answer will cause a violent reaction from the structure.
“Diamond Dogs” is part of Alastair Reynolds’ “Revelation Space” fictional universe but is a standalone story and doesn’t need to have read other stories in this series. It’s set at the end of Chasm City’s golden age and contains references to the Sylveste family, the protagonist of the novel “Revelation Space“.
This novella is full of references to books, music and movies. The title is an album by David Bowie. The character of Childe Roland is a reference to Robert Browning’s poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came” that also inspired Stephen King. The character’s obsession is about the Blood Spire instead of the Dark Tower.
The theme of “Diamond Dogs” is a classic not only of science fiction. Alastair Reynolds includes tributes to works in which the protagonists must pass various dangerous tests: the novel “Rogue Moon” by Algis Budrys and the movies “Cube” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”.
In this case, the tests happen in a labyrinth that is a structure built by aliens for mysterious reasons and Roland Childe assembles a group of people to be able to pass all tests. The story is told in first person from the point of view of Richard Swift, an old friend of Roland who can never resist his challenges and get convinced to be part of this new adventure.
The other members of the team are well developed thanks to Richard Swift’s descriptions as well as the tale of their attempt to penetrate into the depths of the Blood Spire. This alien structure should be included among the protagonists as well: its big reactions are the consequences of the wrong answers to the test but there are others that are more subtle and raise the suspecion that in some ways it may even be alive.
The answers to the test, which are mathematical, are generally determined by Celestine, who has augmented her skills thanks to the Pattern Jugglers, aliens who live in the seas of various planets. The tension increases during the course of the story because the tests become more and more complex and the errors cause more and more violent reactions.
The members of Roland Childe’s team are forced to accept solutions that get more and more extreme in order to survive within the Blood Spire. Roland Childe, who already knew what to expect, secured the services of Dr. Trintignant, notorious for having conducted hideous cybernetic experiments on humans and himself now more machine than man.
In the end, the most important part of “Diamond Dogs” is in the reactions of the various characters to the challenge of the Blood Spire’s tests and the constant danger that it represents. They have their personal reasons for being there and they affect the way they deal with the situations that arise during the expedition in the structure. For some of them, the obsession is such as to encourage them to go ahead anyway, for others the price to pay can become too high.
There are other mysteries, information not revealed by Roland Childe and what Richard Swift discovers is disturbing. In the background, the Revelation Space fictional universe, in particular Yellowstone. Interstellar trips last many years and in the meantime in the system the team left from a lot of things can happen.
In my opinion, “Rogue Moon” remains the best for the characters development and the tension in the story. I think “Diamond Dogs” is still good from these points of view. It’s a novella as defined today but it’s not much shorter than Algis Budrys’ novel. I recommend it especially to those who enjoyed the Revelation Space fictional universe and those who like this kind of stories.