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Reed, Robert

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1956-    ) US author who began publishing sf with "Mudpuppies" as by Robert Touzalin for L Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future (anth 1986) edited by Algis Budrys; the story gained the $5000 grand prize awarded in the Writers of the Future Contest for that year. Reed has since gradually become prolific and highly admired as an author of short fiction, assembling some of his almost 300 tales to date – of his many non-series tales since 2010, none are yet collected – in The Dragons of Springplace (coll 1999), The Cuckoo's Boys (coll 2005) and Eater-of-Bone and Other Novellas (coll 2012). "A Billion Eves" (October/November 2006 Asimov's) won the 2007 Hugo for best novella. These stories are technically very varied, and the circa 150 tales published so far in the twenty-first century range from intimate vignettes to highly competent Space Opera; most are sf rather than fantasy; their protagonists are typically loners in worlds which are often unforgiving, though normally without malice. As with James Tiptree Jr, intimations of death (and Entropy) frequently tone his work. Overall his work has some of the dry-ice intensity of writers like Robert Silverberg and Gene Wolfe; the contemporary he most resembles may be Robert Charles Wilson.

Over the earlier part of his career, Reed was perhaps best known for his novels, beginning with The Leeshore (1987), a tale which combines adventure-sf plotting (a pair of twins, the sole humans left on the eponymous water-covered colony planet, must guide a task force in pursuit of the Computer-worshipping zealots who have killed everyone else) with an almost mystical sense for the genius of place, the intricacies of selfhood. The Hormone Jungle (1988) is set in an entirely different venue, a densely crowded Solar System drawn in Cyberpunk colours; but a similar attention to the mysterious depths of his distorted characters saves the book from Reed's early tendency to indulge in a sometimes choking virtuosity. Black Milk (1989) is set in yet another of sf's familiar 1980s venues, a Near-Future world threatened by uncontrolled and secret Genetic-Engineering experiments instigated by a late and movingly presented version of the inventor/entrepreneur who runs the world (see Edisonade); once again, the expertness of the writing and its knowing exploitation of current scientific speculations are balanced by an underlying quiet sanity about how to depict and to illumine human beings. In Down the Bright Way (1991) a group of sentient beings searches through an endless string of Parallel Worlds for the old gods – or sentient beings at the start of things – while fending off others intent on using the pathways for darker purposes. In The Remarkables (1992) a confrontation between the main stream of humanity – sequestrated in densely populated local space – and a lost colony leads to a complexly engaging rite of passage involving representatives of both human streams with the eponymous aliens; An Exaltation of Larks (1995) even more intensely focuses on a small group of humans on Earth within the frame of a dizzying Multiverse. Sister Alice (fixup 2003) is just as expansive, though the dimension here is time: the eponymous Alice Chamberlain – a human being so transfigured over the aeons of her (and her huge Family's) suzerainty over the galaxy-spanning human race that she is perhaps more AI than human (see Singularity) – returns to Earth to convey messages of Transcendence to a young Chamberlain (she is number twelve in the array; he is number 24,411). The original stories, published from 1993 in Asimov's, hint at but do not match the cumulative power of the tale.

Two sets of connected works have shaped Reed's later career. In the Veil of Stars sequence, comprising Beyond the Veil of Stars (1994) and Beneath the Gated Sky (1997), the sense of claustrophobia characteristic of Reed's work derives from an image of our Solar System as impacted upon – from beyond a fabricated and deceitful veil of stars – by innumerable similar inhabited systems. We live in a megalopolis of planets, and we communicate with each other by passing through dimensional barriers, which change our bodies so that we resemble natives of the visited world – which is also overcrowded.

The more substantial Great Ship sequence – comprising Marrow (fixup 2000), Mere (2005 chap), The Well of Stars (2005), the title story of Eater-of-Bone and Other Novellas (2012), The Greatship (coll 2013) and The Memory of Sky (coll of linked novel-length stories 2014) – is set on a World Ship discovered by humans seemingly adrift passengerless and crewless outside the home galaxy, and who take it over, dubbing it Great Ship. The reason for its original construction (many aeons earlier), and for its seemingly aimless course through the universe, remain undetermined; so large and largely unknown is the ship, even to its new "owners", that the discovery in the first volume that it is in fact built around and therefore now encases an entire planet shocks those inhabitants – out of a huge array of Aliens, some Immortal, some Cyborg, some Hive-Mind – who actually discover it. A convenient entry point for Reed's extremely ambitious unfolding universe is the set of rewritten stories assembled according to internal chronology in The Greatship (coll 2013). The three connected tales assembled as The Memory of Sky – they effectively comprise one very long novel, though they were originally designed for separate publication – combine Bildungsroman and Fantastic Voyage, and may best convey the Sense of Wonder that permeates the whole, and intermittently startles the reader with new perspectives of argued vastness. There is some abiding sense that the inhabitants of the Great Ship may constitute a rump of sentients who have remained in the flesh, refusing the Exogamous allure of Transcendence.

The cool architectonic delight of the overall concept, plus his unfailing capacity to focus his narrative through the lives of plausibly conceived protagonists, brought Reed to a significantly wider readership. Given the habit of contemporary sf readers to expect a kind of brand identity from authors, Reed's continuing facility and variousness may not have helped his career in the market, and in recent years he has mainly focused on shorter works. One significant exception, however, is the Trials of Quentin Maurus sequence beginning with Inevitable (2016), all four volumes comprising the single exemplary narrative of the life of Quentin Marcus in an Alternate World version of Earth in the mature years of the twentieth century and onward, when women dominate half the planet in opposition to the male-ruled other half, and where the life of a young man can seem full of costless treasures. But Quentin, like a pinball in a Godgame, is driven from pillar to post as he attempts to mature while honouring his lovers and his family in interesting times. [JC]

see also: Androids.

Robert David Reed

born Omaha, Nebraska: 9 October 1956



Veil of Stars

Great Ship

The Trials of Quentin Maurus

  • Inevitable (Denton, Texas: Trilobite Press, 2016) [ebook: The Trials of Quentin Maurus: na/]
  • Insatiable (Denton, Texas: Trilobite Press, 2016) [ebook: The Trials of Quentin Maurus: na/]
  • Ephemeral (Denton, Texas: Trilobite Press, 2016) [ebook: The Trials of Quentin Maurus: na/]
  • Everlasting (Denton, Texas: Trilobite Press, 2016) [ebook: The Trials of Quentin Maurus: na/]

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