Renowned science fiction author and former astronomer Alastair Reynold’s first novel is Revelation Space, a combination space opera and hard science fiction novel. While there are five novels that take place within this universe, this novel is followed by two direct sequels, Redemption Ark and Absolution Gap. This was the first book I read by Reynolds, and while I found the story enjoyable, I did think the book was far longer than necessary.
Archaeologist Dan Sylveste is studying the remains of the bird-like alien race Amarantin, which was mysteriously wiped out nine hundred thousand years ago. When many of the workers abandon the dig due to a huge storm coming their way, Sylveste refuses to leave since he has discovered a huge obelisk and desires to translate the writing on it to see if he can glean any significance from it. Sylveste believes the Amarantin somehow caused their own demise and believes it may even be associated with their discovery of spaceflight; therefore, he believes it is vitally important to learn what happened so humanity can avoid making the same mistakes. Unfortunately for Sylveste, many disagree with his view and there is a coup, resulting in his imprisonment for a time.
Ana Khouri, a soldier, is separated from her husband during relativistic travel and ends up in Chasm City. By the time she joined up with her husband at their original destination, his life would practically be over so she remains in the city, working as an assassin to provide adventures for the rich who hope to be able to tell stories about surviving the attempt on their lives. One day Khouri is kidnapped and taken to a woman known only as the Mademoiselle, who coerces the woman into serving her and sends her on a mission to murder Dan Sylveste. To get Khouri near Sylveste, the Mademoiselle arranges for her to meet Ilia Volyova, a member of the ship’s crew on Nostalgia for Infinity, who is seeking Sylveste as the only man who can help with the plague their captain has contracted. Volyova is searching for a new gunnery officer since the previous one went insane and accepts Khouri without realizing her real motives for joining the crew.
Revelation Space is very bogged down by verbosity. It is a very dense book, containing many long paragraphs (including one that was over an entire page long), which can make for difficult reading at times. This book was so hard to focus on that it took me a month and a half to read the entire book, but it was intriguing enough that I kept it on my nightstand to read on occasion instead of putting it back on the shelf for later. This was during a time when work was stressing me out so that may have contributed to the problem – I often found it easier going on the weekends and finished it while I was on vacation. I still wouldn’t recommend it to anyone looking for a light read since it is very wordy and full of scientific explanations.
This is a science fiction book that is nearly as heavy on the science as on the fiction. Astronomy and physics are at times relevant to the plot, and there are various alien species and advanced technologies. The crew members of Nostalgia for Infinity are only partially human since they have enhanced themselves with machinery (the disease the captain is suffering from preys on nanotechnology). Dan Sylveste has a simulation of his dead father Calvin that he sometimes refers to for advice, even though the two of them never got along well in life and certainly have their differences still even when Calvin is no longer alive.
The characters are not particularly likable unless you enjoy reading about flawed, selfish people who are not good or even mostly good types. All the major players have committed murder at some point, although none of them did so out of motives that make them seem purely evil for it. Personally, I enjoy gray and flawed characters so they did not bother me, but those who tend to gravitate toward people they can root for as being on the side of right and justice may find these personalities to be rather despicable.
Revelation Space is an intelligent and compelling story, although it does have the rather large and common weakness of being very wordy. It is not an easy read and it does require more work to read than many books, but it was definitely worth reading and I will be acquiring the rest of the series.