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REVIEW: Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

REVIEW SUMMARY: Stiffly-written but richly-detailed space opera.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A search for answers about an extinct alien race leads to monumental discoveries about their fate.

PROS: Detailed plot and back story; manageable number of storylines; plot twists and revelations and intrigue, oh my!
CONS: Stiff and slow-to-read writing style.
BOTTOM LINE: Decent space opera that’s worth a look.

The planet Resurgam was once the site of an archaeological expedition meant to uncover the secrets of an extinct alien race known as the Amarantin. After several years, most of the planet’s inhabitants mutinied because they thought the expedition was not worth pursuing. Those who remained, led by their leader Dan Sylveste, remained true to the original purpose of learning and discovery. Sylveste is somewhat megalomaniacal in his interest of the Amarantin and has been ever since he alone survived an encounter inside the mysterious Shroud, an area of space not well understood by anyone. At an Amarantin dig, Sylveste finds reference to a god named “Sun Stealer”.

Meanwhile, aboard the huge spaceship Nostalgia for Infinity, caretaker Illia Volyova is searching for Sylveste. Only Sylveste (or more accurately, the sentient AI that is based on his father, Cal) can once again cure ship’s captain who is cryogenically frozen to prevent the spread of a killer virus. Soon, an ever-increasingly insane gunnery officer tries to kill her while leaving her the strange message “Sun Stealer”.

Mean-meanwhile, Ana Khouri is a paid assassin who is forced by the mysterious “Mademoiselle” to infiltrate the crew of the Nostalgia for Infinity, and, for reasons unknown, kill Sylveste.

In a very brief nutshell, that describes the situation in this space opera. There is a lot more going on. Way more. Reynolds packs enough story background in here for several novels. The depiction of the resource-strapped colony on Resurgam was well done. Reynolds depicts differing points of view, power struggles and conflict to great effect. The backgrounds of Sylveste and Khouri were also well-done in that they were filled with good SF elements and even a dash of poignancy.

The dispensing of all this background is hampered, though, by a very stiff writing style. I found the verbiage very difficult to read with any amount of speed. It’s not that the words were difficult; it was in the way the sentences were structured. It just took a bit longer than I would have liked and detracted from the enjoyment to some degree.

To balance the amount of information in the story, he does limit the number of characters and plotlines that the reader has to track. There are way less characters and threads than, say, Peter F. Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy. The characterizations were OK, I guess. Being a space opera, there was a lot of changing loyalties, secrets, ulterior motives, manipulations, etc so it was sometimes hard to get a line on their true motivations. Fortunately, again being space opera, it included lots of cool plot twists, surprises and revelations, which is what draws me to the sub genre.

Revelation Space, Alastair Reynolds’ first novel, is also first in a four-book sequence that is followed by Chasm City, Redemption Ark and Absolution Gap. There are also two novellas set in the same universe: Diamond Dogs and Turquoise Days.

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

2 Comments on REVIEW: Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

  1. Everything you said about this book I agree with. I do think, however, that it is a good first novel for Reynolds and it was enough to get me to read Chasm City, which is a much better written story. Redemption Ark is next on my list!

  2. I’ve enjoyed Reynolds stuff so far. I’m hoping that his various short stuff (stories, novelettes, etc.) make it to the US in hardback form with artwork that matches the three HC’s that have come out so far.

    I believe the next books–and for now (???) the final in this “universe”–is due out in the summer.

    Reynolds has his own website. There’s a contact e-mail there. He responds to e-mail–eventually!–but he does respond.

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