Sunday, January 30, 2011

Revelation Space

Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds
Penguin Group (USA), 2000
Mass Market Paperback , 592 pages
Revelation Space Series #1
ISBN-13: 9780441009428
Synopsis from cover:
Nine hundred thousand years ago, something annihilated the Amarantin civilization just when it was on the verge of discovering space flight. Now one scientist, Dan Sylveste, will stop at nothing to solve the Amarantin riddle before ancient history repeats itself. With no other resources at his disposal, Sylveste forges a dangerous alliance with the cyborg crew of the starship Nostalgia for Infinity. But as he closes in on the secret, a killer closes in on him. Because the Amarantin were destroyed for a reason - and if that reason is uncovered, the universe - and reality itself - could be irrevocably altered..."

My Thoughts:

Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds is a hard science fiction space opera and the first book in the three volume Revelation Space series. Since Reynolds has a Ph.D in astronomy, we are seriously talking hard science fiction. For fans of hard science fiction, this means Reynolds writes from a knowledge base that lends authenticity to the narrative. He seriously explores theories and explanations for the universe he creates. In other words, there is real science in this science fiction.

The narrative follows three unpredictable characters: Sylveste, Khouri and Volyova. At the beginning, the story moves slowly as Reynolds introduces and explores the background, lives, and motivations of the main characters. Since they are all quite different and start out during different time periods, early on you need to pay close attention to the details. All three stories do eventually merge.

I have a feeling that the careful reading of Revelation Space, keeping in mind descriptions, times, locations, etc, will pay off as the series continues. All three of the characters are unreliable narrators. Reynolds clearly has his characters withhold information, delaying revelations until later in the story - and hugely at the end.

In general I felt the writing was good, as were the characterizations. Reynolds really excelled at establishing a setting for the story and I think you really get a feeling for the vastness of space, as well as the strangeness of those who only live on ships. That, along with details about the ship Nostalgia for Infinity, also set a rather dark, dangerous, and, er, decaying tone to the novel. There are some surprising twists and information at the very end.
Highly Recommended for fans of hard science fiction


Mantell Sector, North Nekhebet, Resurgam, Delta Pavonis system, 2551
There was a razorstorm coming in.
Sylveste stood on the edge of the excavation and wondered if any of his labours would survive the night. The archeological dig was an array of deep square shafts separated by baulks of sheer-sided soil: the classical Wheeler box-grid. The shafts went down tens of meters, walled by transparent cofferdams spun from hyperdiamond. A million years of stratified geological history pressed against the sheets. But it would take only one good dustfall-one good razorstorm-to fill the shafts almost to the surface. opening

Nine hundred thousand years had passed since the Event. Most of that stratification was permafrost-typical in Resurgam's subpolar latitudes; permanent frost-soil which never thawed. Deeper down-close to the Event itself-was a layer of regolith laid down in the impacts which had followed. The Event itself was a single, hair-fine black demarcation-the ash of burning forests. pg. 3

"And what exactly might this terrible warning have concerned?"
Her question was largely rhetorical, as Sylveste well knew. She understood exactly what he believed about the Amarantin. She also seemed to enjoy needling him about those beliefs; as if by forcing him to state them repeatedly, she might eventually cause him to expose some logical error in his own theories; one that even he would have to admit undermined the whole argument.
"The Event," Sylveste said, fingering the fine black line behind the nearest cofferdam as he spoke.
"The Event happened to the Amarantin," Pascale said. "It wasn't anything they had any say in. And it happened quickly, too. They didn't have time to go about burying bodies in dire warning, even if they'd had any idea about what was happening to them."
"They angered the gods," Sylveste said. pg. 6

"Not bad?" Sylveste said. "It's bigger and better preserved than anything we've found to date by an order of magnitude. It's clear evidence of a more advanced phase of Amarantin technology ... perhaps even a precursor phase to a full industrial revolution. " pg. 14

The trouble with the dead, Triumvir Volyova thought, was that they had no real idea when to shut up.
She had just boarded the elevation from the bridge, weary after eighteen hours in consultation with various simulations of once-living figures from the ship's distant past. pg. 17

"...Don't you understand? The Event didn't just happen to the Amarantin. They caused it. They made it happen." pg. 25

Later that day, when the man came to offer her a job as a contract assassin, she found it surprisingly easy to accept.... Assassins, it turned out, had to be among the sanest, most analytical people on the planet. pg. 45

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