Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Revelation Space - Alastair Reynolds

2000; 585 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Sci-Fi.  Laurels : nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award (2000); and the BSFA (2001).  Rating : 7½*/10.

    On a faraway planet, archaeologist Dan Sylveste is excavating ancient (900,000 years old) ruins that he thinks indicate that a civilization on the brink of achieving space travel was wiped out in a cataclysmic event.

    Spaceship pilot Ilia Volyova has other plans.  She intends to kidnap Sylveste and force him to work on healing her starship captain.  Ana Khouri has a straightforward aim.  She wants to assassinate Sylveste.  To save the universe.

What's To Like...
   Set in the 2500's, Revelation Space is a good example of "hard" (technologically plausible) sci-fi.  Among other things, Reynolds' universe abides by the "you can't go faster than the speed of light" principle.  This is the first book of a series of either 3 or 5 books, depending how you view it, but it is also a stand-alone novel.

    The three main characters are well-developed, and we have lots of time to get to know them as they start off light-years apart from each other.  Ana and Ilia hook up pretty quickly, but we're halfway through the book before they reach Sylveste's planet.  None of the three is completely likeable, and I like that.  But we warm to all of them as the events unfold.

    There are some quibbles.  Revelation Space is a slow and difficult read, mostly because of Reynolds' technological asides.  Being a scientist, I didn't mind.  But non-techies might.  The non-linear chapter dates can be confusing at first, and there are a number of loose ends left untied at the end of the book.  I presume these are addressed in the sequels.  Finally, if you're a secondary character, your odds for survival are slim, and your demise will probably be arbitrary.

Kewlest New Word...
Svinoi : a pig-breeder; or just a pig itself.  (Russian, pejorative)

    "State your identity," the woman said.
    Volyova introduced herself.
    "You last visited this system in ... let me see." The face looked down for a minute.  "Eighty-five years ago; '461.  Am I correct?"
    Against her best instincts, Volyova leaned nearer the screen.  "Of course you're correct.  You're a gamma-level simulation.  Now dispense with the theatrics and just get on with it.  I've wares to trade and every second you detain me is a second more we have to pay to park our ship around your useless dogturd of a planet."
    "Truculence noted," the woman said, seeming to jot a remark in a notebook just out of sight.  (pgs. 84-85)

    "A splendidly inept thing," Sylveste said, nodding despite himself.
    "The human capacity for grief.  It just isn't capable of providing an adequate emotional response once the dead exceed a few dozen in number.  And it doesn't just level off - it just gives up, resets itself to zero.  Admit it.  None of us feel a damn about these people."  (pg. 323)

The trouble with the dead ... was that they had no real idea when to shut up.  (pg. 17)
    Revelation Space reminds me both of Arthur Clarke's "2001 - A Space Odyssey" and Peter F. Hamilton's "Night's Dawn" trilogy.  It is a bit less "sweepingly epic" than the latter, but then again, there are four more books (and a number of short stories) to go.

    I personally liked the "hard science" parts - discussions of the history of the universe, and of Fermi's paradox (if interstellar flight is theoretically plausible, why haven't we been visited yet?).  But the storyline at times seems disjointed and could have been more compelling.  And there a couple jaw-dropping cases of deus ex machina.

    Still, this is really quite good for a "first effort" (there are nine Alastair Reynolds novels now, with a tenth due out in 2012), and makes for a fascinating introduction to a new and complex universe.  7½ Stars.

No comments: