Revelation Space
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106 of 111 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 2001
_Revelation Space_ belongs to a subgenre of hard science fiction that I label "eschatalogical" SF; that is, science fiction that attempts to explain the history of the universe, or at least a big enough portion of it. SF on an almost infinite scale of both time and space. SF that portrays a universe with a purpose, a big, hidden purpose, the discovery of which motivates the characters in the novel and the revelation of which (pardon the pun) forms its denouement. (As examples, read all four of Fred Pohl's "Heechee" novels, or David Zindell's "Neverness" series.) Such works promise much; and they had better deliver, for little is more disappointing than something that dares and fizzles.
_Revelation Space_ definitely does not fizzle, but it didn't quite deliver on its great promise, either. Not that I didn't enjoy the journey. It's one of the few even hard SF books that really depends on the relativistic effect of high-speed interstellar travel. The bells and whistles of authorial imagination (intended to make you admire his creativity - in this case, the Pattern Jugglers, Conjoiners, Ultras, the Shrouds, etc.) are clever and convincing indeed; the shape of human society is very original - different enough from our own day to seem plausibly futuristic, yet recognizable enough so that we can care about the characters as humans with whom we still have something in common.
The plot is fascinating - you really want to know what happened to the Amarantins, you really want Sylveste to make his ultimate discovery. You just hope the revelations, when they come, will be shattering ENOUGH, that the payoff will be truly galactic in scope. And that's where _Revelation Space didn't quite fulfill its mighty promise. As with many epic books, the ending seemed a bit rushed; I often joke it's as if the author had a deadline, or a maximum word count, and had to finish the book within that artificial constraint. More likely, it is simply difficult to articulate an ultimate vision, to get on paper what you feel in your spirit.
Don't get me wrong, Reynolds ties up all his many threads in a very neat package that doesn't even seem contrived. Yet what is going on behind the entire tale just doesn't seem quite powerful enough to have motivated the action. That's just my opinion.
_Revelation Space_ is one of my favorite novels of recent years, and I'm very sorry it didn't make the 2001 Hugo Ballot. It is complex (I almost wish it had an index!), involving, very high tech, and very futuristic. Reynolds has already published a sequel in the same universe called _Chasm City_, which is not yet available in the US (I picked up a copy from a British dealer at the Millennium Philcon). He is an author definitely worth watching, and I am looking very much forward to reading his works in the future.
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53 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on October 13, 2003
With Revelation Space, Alastair Reynolds' first novel, he aims high and hits the target almost dead on. It's a rarity these days to find an author capable of combining hard science fiction with good storytelling, but if this book demonstrates anything, it's that Reynolds is just such an author. And even more impressive, he does it on a grand scale, weaving together events that take place light-years and decades (and even centuries) apart.
I won't bother to outline the story here - I'm sure plenty of other reviewers have already done that. What I will say is that the author places his characters against the backdrop of human existence several centuries from now, when interstellar space has been colonized, trade ships spend decades plying the space between starts, and human beings exist in a variety of forms, from highly modified cybernetic beings to artificial simulations based on brain scans of the dead. Yet even on such a grand stage, the characters are never lost - Sylveste, Khouri and Volyova are each strong enough to hold their own, and even if you never find yourself caring about them, you will want to keep reading to learn of their fates.
The story is well written and very engaging, and despite the fact that it lost some momentum in the middle, I found myself eagerly turning pages to find out what would happen next. All in all, though this is not quite a perfect sci-fi novel, it comes close - and definitely deserves five stars! I would recommend it without hesitation to any fan of hard science fiction.
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82 of 94 people found the following review helpful
on August 26, 2003
I am conflicted by this book. On the one hand, Reynolds brilliantly imagines far-future human societies (like the genetically modified space-faring Ultras), giant, intelligent spaceships (like the miles-long Nostalgia For Infinity, partially taken over by a virus that feeds on computers), ancient alien races, and all the necessary technology to make these believable. In the hands of a better writer, the components - the content - of this book would be downright incredible.

However, Reynolds is not a good writer. His characters exist merely to move the story forward. I don't think any of the main three could seriously be called "heroes". It doesn't matter to me that they're all working against each other at certain times, but none of them ever seems real enough. Sylveste is a slightly egomaniacal scientist obsessed with uncovering the mystery of the disappearance of a race of aliens thousands of years ago. Ana Khouri is a mercenary hired by a mysterious stranger to kill Sylveste. Volyova is the commander (sort of) of a giant starship (mentioned above) that is also searching for Sylveste, because she needs his help. Beyond that, they are interchangeable. Only their motivations differ - they speak in the exact same voice, and their actions are hardly distinctive. You wouldn't recognize these characters if you happened to meet them anywhere else; they're just plot devices, and that is incredibly irritating.

The book takes about 200 pages too much in getting its plot worked out. It's very long, and I'm not sure how much of that length is really essential to the whole. Reynolds spends a lot of time with flashbacks - not important ones, just brief ones to tell you what a character was doing ten minutes before he/she was doing something else. Utterly superfluous. Another problem is his consistent use of passive sentences - even when there was intense action going on, it didn't feel intense. Instead of writing "Khouri walked down the hall", Reynolds writes "Khouri WAS walking down the hall." The overuse of the passive voice robs the story of immediacy and action.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, though on an entirely conceptual level. It was a painful chore to read (you have to make it to the last few pages before he explains the specifics of his plot), and I don't think I'll bother with the sequels.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2008
I really wanted to like this book, but in the end I just can't recommend it. The ideas are fantastic, the universe is engrossing and even the plot is entertaining and interesting. But there is not a single likable character in the story, with the occasional exception of a minor character here and there. All of the main characters, and most of the secondary characters, are not only unlikable, but they're all exactly the same: arrogant, sarcastic, monomaniacal, an joyless. In fact I would say that's the biggest flaw of Reynolds' writing: there is no joy in the characters or (rare for British writers) the writing itself. I actually cheered when any character died, because I cared so little about them.

Aside from the characters, the narrative construction is annoying, jumping endlessly between three widely-separated subplots on almost every page, and withholding vital information from the reader (even when the characters themselves learn the important information) for no point other than cheap cliffhangers at the end of each extremely brief scene. Think Dan Brown.

The core of this story is wonderful. If you're good at assembling a story from intentionally confusing storytelling style, and you can deal with endless cynicism and sarcasm, the underlying universe and plot are worth the read. But I think you'd be better served reading the synopsis on Wikipedia.

I've heard Reynolds' writing improves in some of his later books. I'll probably check one of them out and see for myself, as he does show himself to be a promising writer.

Instead of this book, however, I would recommend another far future, Einsteinian physics, big-picture first novel from a new author: the Golden Age series from John C Wright. It's far and away the best sci-fi I've read in the last decade.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on February 14, 2001
Alistair Reynolds' sf-debut is first and foremost a fresh instance of the space opera genre. Space, time and species galore, in other words, and enjoyably so. Secondly the novel can be categorised as hard science fiction; Reynolds manages to ground his fantasies in believable science.
The story soars over space and time, telling us about scientist Dan Sylveste's obsessive interest in the ancient race of the Amarantin. Almost a million years ago a stellar event whiped them out of existence, and Sylveste is rather destined to find out why. His central storyline is interwoven with the exotic crew of the giant spaceship Infinity, ex-soldier Ana Kouri and some cloudy puppeteering forces that remain largely unseen.
Revelation Space is a debut, and a promising one at that. There are flaws, though. I feel that the story could have been told in almost half of the pages it takes Reynolds to do so. Furthermore the sheer scope of the plot makes it hard to keep all lines in the head.
But these are minor flaws. Revelation Space might not be a pageturner, but it does offer a gripping plot that keeps on satisfying a curious mind. Do not be surprised. Revelation Space ain't over till the space lady sings.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on August 23, 2008
As many reviews here have noted, the pacing and flow of the novel are ragged. The plot alternately stalls and lurches forward, often aided quite literally by deus ex machina elements. The use of many short scenes is a conjurer's trick aimed at convincing the reader that more is happening than really is. And introducing the bulk of the mystery early on and then waiting for all the characters to slowly uncover that same data over hundreds of pages fails to build suspense. Reynolds has repeated sections where characters restate information we already know, as if to remind us that "don't forget, there's something important just around the bend." Or perhaps he was afraid the reader would be lost in the juggling plotline. The novel is longer than it needs to be and the ending falls very flat after slogging through nearly 600 pages of promises that something big is going to be revealed.

The characters are one of the major failings of the novel. If the novel was meant to be about the journey, the character interactions needed to be much more varied and interesting than repeated hostile showdowns. After spending so much time with these characters, we should also know much more about why they are so driven and obsessive. "Aliens warped their minds," "he's just a jerk," and "he/she/it is crazy" begin to wear a bit thin. I had no idea where the rare emotions that anyone displays for anyone else came from. A few ambiguous, amoral characters who struggle to communicate or empathize with others might have worked--populating the novel with them is severe overkill. Who are we supposed to root for? The abstract idea of humanity as a species? I did not care if a single one of these characters survived. And the revelation they uncover was not worth forcing myself to pretend to care as they plowed forward.

By far the most interesting aspects of the novel, and the only reason I wavered between two and three stars, are the intriguing setting and the technologies that Reynolds imagines. An epic novel based on presenting these aspects in greater detail or greater scope would have been more satisfying. But we view these elements only through the claustrophobic perspective of a small collection of unlikeable or simply inscrutable characters.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2001
Alastair Reynolds has produced an amazing masterpiece (an incredible debut!) blending the extrapolations of hard science with unforgettable characters set in a possible and disturbing future five centuries from now. This is a thinking person's novel, not light reading to be finished overnight. The conceptions from nanotechnology, astrophysics, genetic engineering, and computer science will stimulate you and keep you thinking long after finishing the book. It is so well written, that despite its length I was left wishing it would continue for a few hundred pages more. The vast panorama of intergalactic history and conflict, spanning billions of years, and the original ideas the author presents establish him as one of the most powerful voices of modern science fiction, in the tradition of Arthur Clarke, A.E. van Vogt, Jack Williamson, and a few others. Although the power of this novel emerges primarily from the dizzying vistas of the future and the alien artifacts and civilizations it paints in cataclysmic brush strokes, it also features outstanding characters not easily forgotten: Khouri, the soldier assassin, and Ilia Volyova, the dynamic Triumvir on the starship Infinity, are easily two of the strongest female characters in sf literature, and the pathos of Dan Sylveste will long linger in memory as well. This novel is a first rate masterpiece of the calibre of Clarke's CHILDHOOD'S END, Williamson & Gunn's STAR BRIDGE, and A.E. van Vogt's VOYAGE OF THE SPACE BEAGLE. Highly recommended!
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on September 23, 2003
I just love galaxy-spanning novels, space -archaeology and cosmic mysteries.
Here you find all this, beautifully written in a gothic post-cyberpunk style. In my opinion the flaw of the book is that none of the characters is in the least appealing. The two main personae are obsessed egotistic zealots that would breezily commit genocide to achieve their ends. And the others aren't much better. Also, the novel is overlong, as usual whit most of today's Science-Fiction and Fantasy production. Still, it's an interesting read whit good ideas, and an intriguing alien equivalent of a biblical myth that would interest the writer Storm Constantine, whose gothic style is similar to Reynold's.
My vote would be thus 3 and a half. Interesting, but not as the Night Dawn's Trilogy of Peter F. Hamilton.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on August 15, 2001
Reynolds manages to mix a mindblowing plot with 'hard' science in a way that only few authors can accomplish successfully. I cannot think of one page in this book, let alone one character or subplot, that is wasted. Never since Peter F. Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy have I encountered a universe this well thought out. The main plot of Revelation Space almost becomes secondary amidst all the 'wonders' of the setting with its intricate dynamics, strange cultures (the human cultures more so than the alien), and plague-ridden cities and spaceships, which - for a change - are not capable of faster-than-light travel.
If you like John Barnes and Peter F. Hamilton, you'll enjoy Alastair Reynolds.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 2001
"Revelation Space: a quest for the secrets of the universe. Step into infinity and join the ride of the century." (from Revelation Space backcover.)
And what a ride it was. Starting slowly at first but with the no less gripping intrigues of power struggles Machiavellian in their scope on Resurgam, the planet where the story begins. Revelation Space is woven around an archaeological dig of a long past civilisation, the Amarantins and the novel's main character, Dan Sylveste.
Who were the Amarantins, and why did their civilisation cease some nine hundred thousand years ago seemingly in an instant in historical terms? Revelation Space is a look into the possibilities for the human race over 500 years in the future, where electronic implants are not only possible but also the norm, where space ships travel at near the speed of light, and where life can be prolonged almost indefinitely.
Every time I thought the story had crested, some new twist and turn occurred. Even though half way through this 476-page novel, the two story lines came together there was obviously much more of the plot to unravel. About two-thirds into the story I couldn't put the book down, eagerly turning the page to see what new part of the story would be revealed.
I rate this book highly, and recommend it to all science fiction fans. Although certainly not of the scope and depth of the "Foundation" series of Asimov, it nonetheless was truly a "huge, magnificent space opera..."
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