Visions of Paradise

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Redemption Ark

Middle novels of trilogies are traditionally problematic since they need to set up the exciting climactic third novel, so sometimes they are primarily long connectors. Alastair Reynolds tried to avoid that problem as much as possible by structuring Redemption Ark in a similar manner to how he wrote Revelation Space. Again he began with parallel storylines which he developed simultaneously while gradually merging them into one complete entity.

The main focus of Redemption Ark is a war between two groups of human offsprings: the Conjoiners, who are a form of hive mind humans, and Demarchists, a totalitarian group. Most of the novel is told from the point of view of two Conjoiners: Skade is a member of the “inner sanctum” group of Conjoiners, while Clavain joined the Conjoiners four hundred years ago after first fighting against them. The Conjoiners realize that the Inhibitors (whom they refer to as “wolves”) were responsible for the destruction of the Amarantin civilization and are now initiating similar activities against the human culture in that same region of space.

A second storyline involves Volyova, and Khouri, who also recognize the threat of the Inhibitors and are involved in organizing a mass exodus from Resurgam, the planet which is the focus of their attack.

What brings the two storylines together is a group of 40 weapons which were developed by the Conjoiners hundreds of years ago, but which were so powerful that they were hidden away for safety’s sake. However, a century ago the weapons were stolen by somebody who, it turns out, was Volyova who has the weapons hidden away on Nostalgia for Infinity. The Conjoiners learn this, and are determined to recover the weapons for possible use against the wolves/Inhibitors.

The twin plotlines of Redemption Ark merge into an exciting combination of interstellar chase and space war against the wolves. But Reynolds is not writing military sf, nor is he a knee-jerk action-adventure writer, so that the fighting is not the focus of the novel and all the issues raised are ultimately settled due to human interaction instead.

Overall, there were more weaknesses in Redemption Ark than in Revelation Space. Spade was not a particularly believable character, and her scenes were generally the weakest in the book. There was an entire 50 page portion approximately in the book’s middle where I thought Reynolds had slipped into silly thriller-type writing. On one hand he relates the actions of the “mysterious” Mr. Clock and Mr. Pink who act like sfnal “Men in Black”, alternating with Clavain’s dealings with the equally-mysterious H who seems like a secret master of the galaxy. The novel would have been better served if both these portions had been replace with more realistic passages better in keeping with the rest of the novel.

Another weakness was that Clavain, who is ultimately Reynolds’ main focus character, keeps falling into the hands of different characters in ways that are not always totally believable.

None of these faults are fatal, or even more than somewhat annoying considering the overall quality of the novel. As in Revelation Space, the main storylines are concluded well, although this time there is a lot more open-endedness than at the end of the first book, so that it does lead directly into the concluding volume Absolution Gap. I am anxious to read that book in hopes of a satisfying conclusion to the entire trilogy.


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