Monday, April 18, 2011

Book Review: Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

 This is kind of a late/cheater review for Alastair Reynolds’ REVELATION SPACE (since I actually read the book in April of LAST year), but I wanted to chime in with it now as I am currently re-reading the second book, REDEMPTION ARK, in preparation of reading the final book ABSOLUTION GAP (as I wanted to re-prime for said 3rd book) for the first time.

Alastair Reynolds was one of those authors that got mentioned to me en-masse when I threw the question out to my fantasy/sci-fi peeps about wanting some space opera books. The response about him and his various books was almost unanimously positive.  Now, the main series of books (the RS trilogy & the standalone CHASM CITY) is not exactly easy to come by in Canada for some reason. His more recent works are everywhere, but of the original series…not so much as a whisper. Thankfully, my better half was in Florida at the time and found all 4 books at Barnes & Noble so she bought them for me. Bless her. I should also mention that I was advised to read (and did so) a collection of short fiction that takes place in the RS universe called GALACTIC NORTH that has a number of pieces that are probably the best primer for the world Reynolds has created as each story gives you a different facet of needed info. This was in fact a genius stroke as I think it totally enhances the reading experience of REVELATION SPACE…and especially of REDEMPTION ARK. If anyone feels like they wants to start this series I would advise reading at least the first six stories in it (not the last two as they pertain to the final book) just to get familiarized. Plus they are cracker stories (THE GREAT WALL OF MARS being sheer genius IMHO)!

In the first book we are introduced to a universe where earth has long since frozen over and been mostly abandoned. Humanity has taken to other worlds, and then split into various factions. The Conjoiners (nano-tech enhanced/hive mind individuals also called Spiders), the Demarchists (enhanced humans with a neural link that is constantly polling them for answers to questions of demarchist society, also called Zombies), Ultras (transhumans whose bodies can be heavily adapted with mechanical appendages and enhancements for the rigors of space travel) and of course regular humans.

Reynolds likes to have various plot threads that are not related twine together deeper into the book. For me this is always a great way of telling a story simply because you can have completely disparate narratives in which the characters have a chance to be their own. This totally adds to their depth later on and makes for a fuller book. Of the three plotlines in RS, one concerns archeologist Dan Sylveste who is on the planet Resurgam in the far reaches of space uncovering clues about the demise of a 900,000-year-old civilization of people named the Amaratin. They were suddenly and swiftly wiped from existence and left only artifacts as to their societies' demise. The second concerns the light-hugger ship Nostalgia For Infinity and its once-huge but now-small crew of Ultras who have been frozen for a trip to Yellowstone (the main world in the series). They search for the same Dan Sylveste to request his help with their Captain who has been stricken with the Melding Plague (a deadly virus that attacks human cells and machine nanotechnology in equal measure). In the third plot-thread assassin Ana Khouri is hired by a mysterious employer to infiltrate the Nostalgia For Infinity’s crew and ultimately to kill Sylveste at any cost. These three narratives all are all very well executed and the book, though complex, has a rocket pace I can’t even fathom. It should feel like a slower ride, but it just doesn’t and once it grabs you it never stops. Sylveste’s plot interested me most as to the investigation of the disappearance of the Amarantin, but funnily enough both the other plots are just as interesting, partially for insight into a few Reynolds-universe-spanning ideas (Ultras, Melding Plague, near-light travel) and partially because they are populated by such interesting characters. Reynolds background in astrophysics is perfectly clear and present here (even the near-light travel takes years, it takes twenty years for Sylveste to travel from Yellowstone to Resurgam) and that lends the whole volume an air of believability and respectability. Reynold’s science isn’t always perfect, but it is so close that you never have to be pulled out of the story thinking something he’s invented couldn’t exist. It's also beautiful. I have no other way to say it. When he describes even a simple robotic police proxy with scissor-like appendages, it's gorgeously realized prose that makes it easy to imagine.

One thing is definitely for sure, when the narrative streams do finally merge in the second half of the book, and the shit collectively hits the won’t be able to stop reading until you find out what happens. Then, of course, the incredible ending will come along and melt your brain out of your head. Seriously. That's not an exaggeration. This book is made of win.

I flat out LOVE Reynold’s work now and as I said above, I am re-reading the second book which I am enjoying even more this time.

In REVELATION SPACE Alastair Reynolds has not only created a completely plausible future, but has added the right dashes of humanity, politics, and character-driven depth that make for a book that I would nearly deem perfect. It is a ride that I have not forgotten in the year since I read it, and one that I am sure to re-visit in the future. This is Space Opera as it is meat to be done, with a deft hand, a wry wit and plenty of science, intrigue, mysteries and action.

I was SO blown away by it that any time that I am asked my favourite sci-fi books/author now, Alastair Reynolds is the very first name out of my mouth.

I will return with a review of my re-read of book two in a number of days, so keep an eye peeled for that.


  1. Have you read Diamond Dogs / Turquoise Days yet? Two RS novellas in a single volume, and they're fantastic--DD in particular.

  2. I have the book, and read DD, and yeah that one was amazing. I was suitably impressed by it.



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