Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novella (2016)
Locus Award Nominee for Best Novella (2016)

As the war that spans hundreds of worlds and solar systems comes to an end, Scur is captured by an enemy war criminal. He tortures her with the aid of a modified slow bullet, injected in her leg. He leaves Scur for dead in the ruins of a bunker, the slow bullet is worming it’s way to her heart. But when Scur is revived from hibernation on a luxury liner turned prisoner transport space vessel, she learns the world she knew is gone, and all she has left is the hunt for a man she caught a glimpse of on a ship camera. 

Slow bullets is a tense space thriller set in the middle of a gritty survivalist story! My favorite elements include the immediate desperation of a closed society cut off from the rest of humanity, the power dynamics as the new group decides how to survive, and the cool technology. One-third of the people on the ship fought against the other third in the long-gone war, and the rest are civilians who don’t trust either group. As the ship’s memory leaks away, differing religious factions want their own histories and texts preserved. Do they colonize the mostly frozen-over planet below, or prepare for a risky jump through hyper-space to search for other survivors?

Besides being a weapon, military-issued slow bullets are computer pellets inserted into each soldier. Each contains a piece of their identity including family pictures and memories, which offer a link to their previous lives more than ever.

Scur is the protagonist of the story, but she’s still a mystery to me. She seems sincere in a dispassionate sort of way, and as a reader, I don’t really trust her or understand her motivations. So her hunt for the man who tortured her and eventual vengeance is not as satisfying as the rest of the story. Because we don’t know why he tortured her, there’s not much else to villify the big bad either.

Recommended for fans of space scifi. This fast-paced novella is a short page-turner, with bigger ideas intertwined throughout. I am looking forward to reading more of Alastair Reynolds!

“We do not choose our friends in life; life does that for us. Prad and I had nothing in common beyond our intertwined fates on Caprice. We had known different lives before the war and different lives during it. He had never been asked to kill someone, or hate someone for wearing a different uniform or believing in the words of a different Book. That was a difference which nothing could bridge.”