Short Story Review: A SPY IN EUROPA (from Galactic North), by Alastair Reynolds

Alastair Reynold’s Revelation Space trilogy is one of the most intriguing (and challenging!) reads I ever encountered, but it happened several years ago so that time has blurred my memory of it considerably, and the complexity of the narrative context in which this space opera series is set made it difficult for me to retain more than a few of the myriad details of that multifaceted tapestry.  A re-read is something I might enjoy one of these days, and I think this collection of longer stories from that same universe might be the best way to re-introduce myself with the characters and the wide, sweeping background they are moving in.



In the third story of this anthology the focus shifts from Clavain and the Conjoiners to follow another character entirely: Marius Vargovic is a highly skilled spy, enrolled for a mission on Europa, one of the major Jovian satellites, where he needs to contact a sleeper agent to retrieve an important substance that will prove pivotal in the struggle between the Demarchists and another faction for the control of political power.

The first part of the story follows more or less the usual patterns of spy lore: the agent arrives on site in disguise and mingles with the crowds of workers and tourists that move through Europa, then he meets his target while trying to look and sound inconspicuous, and finally he concludes his mission, heading for the retrieval point.  What comes as totally unexpected, as the story unfolds, comes from the descriptions of the place and the unforeseen turn of events that leads to the conclusion.

Europa looks like a fascinating and terrible place: not only the settlements around Jupiter are flourishing – mostly because the economy of Sol System’s inner planets is dwindling – but on Europa they are based on floating cities anchored to the moon’s frigid oceans thanks to a crucial technological discovery. The cities were built through the work of the Denizens, humans who had been genetically modified so they could survive in the cold depths of Europa’s seas, and have been used as little more than slaves ever since.

Vargovic’s task, on behalf of the Demarchists’ adversaries from Gilgamesh Isis, consists in taking possession of a material that will sabotage the cities, and to do so he needs to be surgically altered in a way that will allow him to live underwater for the critical part of his mission. But as such operations go, there are plots within plots involved and even the main operatives are unaware of every detail, so that Vargovic will have to face more than he could foresee, or had bargained for…

A Spy in Europa is a great change of pace and scope from its two predecessors, and at first I found myself a little disoriented, but as the story rolled forward, gaining momentum and upping the stakes, I was fascinated by its twists and turns, and highly surprised by the unforeseeable ending.

My Rating:


19 thoughts on “Short Story Review: A SPY IN EUROPA (from Galactic North), by Alastair Reynolds

  1. Wow! This sounds amazing! I haven’t read much science fiction in this year but you have done an amazing job of explaining what the story is all about and what the reader can expect! ❤️❤️ Loved it, Maddalena! I am so glad you enjoyed this one! ❤️❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. These stories can work very well as an introduction to Reynolds’ main work, the Revelation Space series: you might try them to see if you like the concept – and with the SciFi Month approaching it might be the right time… 😉


  2. I almost placed this in his “horror sf” category when reading Galactic North. If not horror, then some sort of gruesome thriller’y genre? Is there a word for that? Reynolds does a great job with whatever the sub-genre is called 🙂 Makes me wonder what he’d do with straight up supernatural horror?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Can I suggest you bump it further up the pile??? For purely selfish reasons, you understand… I’d love to hear about your response to it! It’s one of my favourite sci fi reads:))

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know, since I started with his Revelation Space novels – although I can recommend Chasm City which is part of that universe but it’s self-contained. These short stories are a good introduction though, and might give you a good idea of his style. Happy reading 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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