Troika is a stand-alone hard science fiction novella that was first published in the 2010 anthology Godlike Machines edited by Jonathan Strahan. In 2011 it was published on its own by Subterranean Press. The story is Alastair Reynolds’ take on the Big Dumb Object trope.
In Reynolds’ future, Russia is the world’s only major superpower and has sent three cosmonauts to examine an alien object, which they call the Matryoshka, which has arrived in Earth’s solar system through a wormhole. The story takes place years after the cosmonauts return and one has escaped the mental institution he’s been imprisoned in to visit the female astronomer who was part of their crew and now lives in poverty. Through their conversation, and a series of flashbacks, they reminisce about the dangerous mission and their exploration of the strange alien artifact, and they reflect on the surprising things they learned and what those things mean for the future of humankind.
Troika reminds me a bit of Reynolds’ novella Diamond Dogs, in which a team of adventurers similarly brave harsh conditions and deadly traps in order to explore an alien object. In both novellas I was fascinated by Reynolds’ Big Dumb Object, but had a hard time connecting with his characters. But even though I found the Russian cosmonauts to be cold and remote, Troika contains a warm-hearted message about curiosity, human connection, the power of music, and hope for the future.
This novella might also be seen as Reynolds’ disappointment in the US government’s decision to cut back funding for NASA and a warning that we should not abandon our space exploration programs. While I share Alastair Reynolds’ opinion on that subject, I doubt that Troika is likely to change anyone’s mind.
Troika was nominated for the Hugo, Locus, and Sturgeon Award for best novella. I listened to the 3-hour long audio version of Troika which was narrated by Wayne June. His Russian accents were totally believable.