Review: Redemption Ark by Alastair Reynolds

REVIEW SUMMARY: An excellent addition to the Revelation Space universe.

MY RATING: rating

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A deadly race of sentient machines, the Inhibitors, is fast approaching human space with the intention of exterminating mankind. The renegade Conjoiner, Clavain, races to recover a cache of super-weapons that may be humanities only hope to stop them.

MY REVIEW: Excellent story set in a very hard-SF universe.

PROS: Well executed story of humanity’s fight for survival. Strong SF concepts, sympathetic characters and ton of “sense o’ wonder” complement the story.

CONS: This is a large book and, consequently, bogs down in the middle. Some of the action takes place “off stage”.

BOTTOM LINE: A must read for fans of Alastair Reynolds.


Redemption Ark opens with the return of one lighthugger starship after 200 years. Everyone on board, except for one person, has been killed. Questioning the survivor reveals that humanity is now a target for elimination by the Inhibitors, the machine race that exterminates organic intelligent life for their own mysterious reasons. The Conjoiners, who are a group of humans who share their minds, decide to combat the Inhibitors using the hell-class super-weapons last seen in Revelation Space. The only problem: The Conjoiners don’t control the weapons any more and so they must acquire them from their current owner in the Resurgam system, 20 light-years away. The Conjoiners Skade and Clavain are asked to retrieve these weapons. After various subterfuges and secret agendas are revealed, it becomes a race between Skade and Clavain to see who can gain control of the weapons. Meanwhile, the Resurgam system itself is under assault by the Inhibitors and the current crew of the lighthugger Nostalgia for Infinity decide to save as many people of Resurgam as possible and to use the hell-class weapons to slow down, if not stop, the Inhibitors in the system. The pressure increases as the crew tries to shuttle as many people into the ship before Clavain and Skade reach them and a battle for control of the weapons ensues.

There is a lot more to this story, but I can’t go into much more detail without writing a dissertation on the story. Suffice it to say, many things happen and there are 4 distinct story threads that intertwine before converging at the end. I found the story line set on Resurgam to be OK, since most of it dealt with the politics of getting people off the planet, which is ruled by an oppressive government, and didn’t have a lot of cool stuff involved. Also, the characters involved here are returning from Revelation Space, and they aren’t the most sympathetic. Not at first anyway. The other story lines involve FTL travel, quantum effects, starcide and the reasons for why the Inhibitors act as they do. These parts were infused with hard-SF and were very interesting to read. Even with an emphasis placed on the science, Reynolds has obviously grown as a writer as his characters, especially Clavain, are more fully fleshed out in this book, and don’t appear to be afterthoughts, as in Revelation Space. That book felt clinical and the characters seemed to act as the plot dictated. Redemption Ark doesn’t give the characters easy choices, but their actions seem to flow from who they are and not because the plot needed it to happen. I really can’t comment more on the story since discovering what is going on is a lot of the fun of this book. I think some of the reviews I’ve seen give away too much and I’m glad I didn’t remember them. But, this is a nice point to segue into the negatives.

Because this is a big book, over 550 pages in hardback and with small type, the story, after the intro, moves slowly. That’s not necessarily bad since Reynolds uses this time to set the pieces in place, detail the motivations for each side, and to slowly build the tension. Once Clavain and Skade become involved in the race to Resurgam, the story achieved the ‘I couldn’t put it down’ state that I really like. That happens over 300 pages into the story though. Secondly, one major event happens off stage. And I do mean major. Clavain and other principle characters are involved in a momentous event but they go from talking about it at the end of one chapter, to having accomplished it at the beginning of the next. However, since this book is rather large, and this would probably have added at least two more chapters, I’m not complaining too much. And lastly, I’m didn’t totally buy into the reasoning behind the Inhibitor’s actions. I can see why they work in story, I just don’t think things would be as described.

Overall though, these negatives didn’t detract too much from the book. I’d recommend this to anyone, and especially to those who have read and enjoyed Revelation Space and Chasm City.

2 thoughts on “Review: Redemption Ark by Alastair Reynolds”

  1. Good review! Since I just read Reveleation Space, I look forward to reading the next ones in the series. It looks like it gets even better.

  2. And the fourth one (and what he says is the last novel set in that universe for now) will be out in July in HC. At one point he said there was going to be a collection of short stories, novelettes, etc., all put together, so hopefully we still have that to look forward to.

    I am re-reading “Revelation Space” in anticipation of getting the fourth book and I’m enjoying it even more than the first go through. He’s a heck of a better writer than some of the other “hot stuffs” these days.

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