Visions of Paradise

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Revelation Space

I have enjoyed much of Alastair Reynolds’ short fiction in recent years, stories such as “Great Wall of Mars” and “Zima Blue,” so when I was seeking to read more “wondrous” science fiction set in the far future away from mundane Earth, he was the author I immediately thought of. I started reading Revelation Space, the first of his Galactic North series soon after finishing Poul Anderson’s The Earth Book of Stormgate, so I knew Reynolds had a tough act to follow. Suffice it to say that Reynolds not only passed his test with flying colors, but he impressed me even more at novel length than he did at shorter lengths.

At the outset of the book there are three plotlines:

• Sylveste is a scientist studying the ancient Amarantin culture which was wiped out one hundred thousand years ago by a mysterious Event which has not been determined;

Nostalgia for Infinity is a starship whose crew are Ultras, human-cyborg combinations who have spent their entire lives in space, so that they are almost nonhuman beings;

• Khouri is an assassin who is being blackmailed to seek out and kill Sylveste.

Besides being a scientist, Sylveste is an important political figure on Resurgam, and finds himself on the wrong side of a political upheaval twice during the novel. The captain of Nostalgia for Infinity is a strange being who is gradually melding with the starship itself. The only person who can save his life is Sylveste’s dead father, whose consciousness has been saved as an upload which can be downloaded into Sylveste’s mind when necessary, although at great cost to Sylveste himself.

The basic format of the novel is basically two mysteries: what was the Event which destroyed the Amarantin civilization, and why is everybody so interested in Sylveste, including those who wish to murder him?

Revelation Space is a rich, information-deep story, but Reynolds keeps all of it well under control, never letting the technobabble overwhelm the story (which, as you might realize, is one of my main turn-offs in some science fiction). The best way to describe Reynolds’ novel is by a few comparisons. I enjoy reading novels which explore future history, such as the works of Robert Silverberg and Jack McDevitt. I also enjoy writers who create breathing, thriving future cultures, both human and alien, such as Poul Anderson and C.J. Cherryh. Alastair Reynolds does both things in the same novel, and does them well. He exceeds McDevitt whose futures tend to be simple reflections of our contemporary world, while Reynolds’ future is truly an extrapolation based on current trends in technological development. He exceeds Cherryh because Reynolds is a natural storyteller able to weave together fascinating scenarios so well that they merge into one complex whole which both makes perfect sense and carries you along to an exciting conclusion (without being a mindless thriller in any sense)

Revelation Space is packed with sense of wonder. The galaxy Reynolds creates is rich and detailed, both stunning in its creativity and believable in its logical development. As a historical mystery it is fascinating in the way Reynolds slowly peels away layers of its past even as the plotlines themselves slowly merge and unravel.

While Reynolds is not a master of characterization, he does not populate Revelation Space with mere spear carriers. He takes care to develop many of his cast, particularly Sylveste, his biographer-turned-wife Pascale, and crewmembers Volyova, and Khouri. The better I understand the people in a novel, the more involved I become in it, and that did happen in Revelation Space.

Overall Revelation Space was an optimistic novel about the future of science fiction, since it showed that a writer can expand on the current developments of science and technology while still building a rich galaxy, develop both human and alien cultures, and tell a great story in the grand tradition of science fiction. All the secondary storylines are resolved, so that only the overarching scenario awaits the next two volumes in the series. It made me very anxious to buy those two books as soon as possible.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home