Century Rain

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Century Rain cover

Century Rain is a 2004 noir science fiction alternate history mystery novel by Welsh author Alastair Reynolds (ISBN 0-575-07436-1).

Plot summary[edit]

Wendell Floyd is an expatriate American living in an alternate version of 1950s Paris. In this world, the Nazi invasion of France failed, and Hitler was deposed by the German High Command. Without World War II, technology in this world has stagnated at 1930s levels, and Fascist political parties have gained power in France.

Floyd is a part-time jazz musician whose career has stalled since his ex-girlfriend, Greta, left Paris to pursue a musical career touring with another jazz band. He and his band-mate André Custine earn a supplemental income working as private detectives. When the novel opens, Floyd and Custine are hired by a concerned landlord to investigate the death of one of his tenants. Blanchard, the landlord, is certain that the death of Susan White, which the Parisian police have written off as an accident, is murder. Floyd is not so certain, but he's willing to investigate.

In a scene seemingly from another novel, Verity Auger finds herself responsible when her archaeology dig beneath the frozen ruins of some far-flung future Paris results in the death of one of her students. During her trial she is caught up in political infighting, and maneuvered into accepting a high risk assignment, without knowing what it entails.

But when she is summoned on a mission to Mars by the top-secret security agency Contingencies, Auger is more than relieved to be exempt from her tribunal and the years of prison that she would otherwise have to face. However, when she is taken to a secret underground base on the Martian moon Phobos containing an ancient alien relic that opens a portal to a distant part of the galaxy, and told that she is to go through it, she begins to have second thoughts about continuing with her mission. Things get even more bizarre when she finds out that at the other end of the portal is an alternate-history version of Earth in the year 1959 — almost 300 years behind her present-day — and that she is to retrieve a tin of documents that was left behind by Susan White, an earlier agent sent to "Earth Two", who died under mysterious circumstances.

History and politics[edit]

In the mid-2070s, weather control nanomachines were released into Earth's atmosphere and oceans in an attempt to reverse global warming. In late 2076, some of these machines became sentient and stopped obeying orders. In response, more intelligent machines were released in an attempt to control them. By July 2077, a total of eight layers of machines had been released, but the weather continued to get worse. At this point the nanomachines started eating everything in the sea to fuel themselves. They then moved to land, and on 27 July, digested humanity. The only people to survive were those in space habitats. To add insult to injury, fifty years after the Nanocaust all linked digital archives were corrupted, although it is not known whether this was sabotage or an accident.

As a result of the Nanocaust and the Forgetting, humans split into two groups, the Threshers and the Slashers. Threshers believe that it should never be able to happen again, and reject the nanotechnology that led to the Nanocaust, preferring to stay on the threshold of dangerous technology, hence their name (a diminution of Thresholders). The Slashers do not believe they should be limited by what happened in the past and embrace new technology. Their official name is the Federation of the Polities, but they trace their existence back to "an alliance of progressive thinkers linked together by one of the first computer networks", whose symbol was a slash and a dot.

The Threshers control access to Earth (or what remains of it), the orbiting structure around it known as Tanglewood, and Mars, after a hard-fought war against the Slashers. The Slashers control the rest of the known universe, including access to an ancient and unstable portal into an alien network that spans the galaxy.

External links[edit]


  • Cassada, Jackie. "Century Rain." Library Journal 130.11 (15 June 2005): 66-66.
  • "Century Rain." Publishers Weekly 252.19 (9 May 2005): 51-51.
  • Schroeder, Regina. "Century Rain." Booklist 101.19/20 (June 2005): 1769-1769.
  • "CENTURY RAIN." Entertainment Weekly (8 July 2005): 73-73.