17 October, 2012

Review - Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

My preferred genre is fantasy and the more epic the better for me. Shoot, the more volumes the better (okay, I draw the line at some point). But at the same time, I like variety. I'm the type of person who tries everything on the menu at a restaurant (not at the same time of course). 

This doesn't change when it comes to my reading preferences. I don't stray too far from genre, but there's lots of variation from fantasy to science fiction, steampunk to urban fantasy, elfpunk, space opera, scifi-fantasy hybrids, etc. While I have been reading a lot of fantasy lately, it was high time I jumped into some science fiction.

I know, that was way too much of an intro for something so pointless. At the same time, I think people like a personal touch, I know I do. You be the judge.

I've had Revelation Space [US] [UK] on my radar for a long time. Reynolds and Hamilton are the two big go-to names for space opera and until now I hadn't read either of them. Reynolds may possibly be known more for being hard sci-fi, but to be honest, I barely know the difference. Sad, I know, especially with how much I just learned I've been missing out on. 

In earth's distant future, the galaxy is full of different factions of humanity, the Stoners, the Ultras, and the Conjoiners among them. There are alien races such as the Jugglers and the Shrouders.

Dan Sylveste is a Stoner who is on an archaeological dig on the planet Resurgam where they have found artifacts belonging to an ancient alien civilization, the Amarantins. Something caused their distruction, termed The Event, and Sylveste is willing to do what it takes to find out, he is one of a smaller faction who believes understanding The Event is absolutely necessary to prevent it from happening to humanity as well.

At the same time, the crew of the Nostalgia for Infinity enter the picture. The Nostalgia is a lighthugger vessel, kilometers long, full of all manner of technology, weapons, agriculture, and with the ability to almost reach the speed of light due to its Conjoiner engines. 

Volyova is the weapons officer in need of a new gunnery officer since she had to kill the last one who went insane. Then comes Khouri, and this is the part that really got me sucked in. Due to a clerical mistake, she was sent to another system, lightyears away from her husband, after the war on Sky's Edge. Any chance of coming together puts one of the pair 40 years older at best.

While the timeline is vast and the distances lightyear-spanning, the story really only centers around a few characters, or rather groups of characters. There's Sylveste and the various peoples he associates with (mostly unwillingly) and then there's Volyova and her crew. Khouri is at first a third party, but quickly jumps in with the lighthugger crew.

I'd like to say I could begin to describe the technologies and peoples and interconnectedness of the whole thing, but I just can't get close. The technology is very believable, even to the point that you can see it as a logical development. Hence why this is known as hard sci-fi, I guess. The factions of humanity is also completely believable, from those who love all the gadgetry and implant it all over themselves (Ultras), to those who enhance their minds so much with machinery that they reach enlightenment (Conjoiners).

At times I was purely in awe of Reynolds' imagination. I could see the neutron stars (or not see them), the wonder was just captivating, it was like being in space in my mind. I loved that we're dealing with kilometer-long ships that have machines that can manufacture anything you need, guns, ship parts, etc. in a matter of seconds.

At the same time, it can be slow going at times and I think that's the reason I can't quite go to five stars on this one. It's a great read and one I would definitely recommend, but I think I was expecting more after this long of a wait (nothing of which Reynolds could do anything about of course). I know, "manage expectations," but I've been building up to this one for years. The fact that it didn't completely disappoint is actually pretty impressive if you think about it.

I also think the limited characters actually tended to diminish the vastness of the story. With only so few being the focus, it was hard to really think of this as a story with heavy implications for humanity. It felt too closed-off, too intimate for anything to really be at stake.

At the same time, the plotting was quite exceptional, tying in almost everything that's introduced throughout the novel. As you can see from this review, I haven't even begun to discuss it. Chalk that up to a combination of laziness and honest incapacity. 

While I had a few reservations, I will definitely be reading more from Reynolds, I already own Chasm City (more of a prequel), so that will probably be next before I finish this trilogy. I'm happy to have finally read this king of space opera/hard sci-fi (depending on who you talk to) and I feel like I can finally enter the club, almost. Reynolds is a king of this genre for a reason, his imagination is vast and his characters compelling

4 out of 5 Stars (Highly Recommended)

Revelations Space trilogy: (Read in red)
Revelation Space (Amazon)
Redemption Ark (Amazon)
Absolution Gap (Amazon)

Same universe
Chasm City (Amazon)
The Prefect (Amazon)
Galactic North [collection] (Amazon)


Unknown said...

Thanks for putting this back on my radar. I started it, and quite enjoyed the scope of it, but I think it was a little too slow going for me at the time. I need to give it another chance.

Woodge said...

Good review! I've only read one book by either Reynolds or Hamilton myself: Terminal World by Reynolds. I would not recommend it. But I talked with a fan of his books who also didn't like Terminal World and he gushed about House of Suns. So THAT one's on my radar. Are you going to try Hamilton next? I've been wondering about Pandora's Star.

Bryce L. said...

@Bob - It's definitely worth your time, it's slow going, but absolutely breathtaking by the end.

@Woodge - Thanks a ton! This was a great one for sure, but I'm obviously no use when it comes to what else of his to read. :) I have heard that The Prefect is a great one as well.

I'll definitely try Hamilton some day (hopefully soon). I have Fallen Dragon, which Mark from Walker of Worlds has read multiple times. I figure that's a good sign.

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kenpat said...

Almost anything by Peter F Hamilton is worth a go. Fallen Dragon is a standalone but The Nights Dawn Trilogy is amazing. Since you say you like epic then you won't be deterred by it's size.
I feel the same way about Alastair Reynolds. Yes some of his books are better than others but I find they are much more satisfying than most other sci fi writers.
Can I also suggest John Scalzis Old Mans War trilogy, as good lighter reads.