Alastair Reynolds's first novel is "hard" SF on an epic scale, crammed with technological marvels and immensities. Its events take place over a relatively short period, but have roots a billion years old--when the Dawn War ravaged our galaxy.
Sylveste is the only man ever to return alive and sane from a Shroud, an enclave in space protected by awesome gravity-warping defenses: "a folding a billion times less severe should have required more energy than was stored in the entire rest-mass of the galaxy." Now an intuition he doesn't understand makes him explore the dead world Resurgam, whose birdlike natives long ago tripped some booby trap that made their own sun erupt in a deadly flare.
Meanwhile, the vast, decaying lightship Nostalgia for Infinity is coming for Sylveste, whose dead father (in AI simulation) could perhaps help the Captain, frozen near absolute zero yet still suffering monstrous transformation by nanotech plague. Most of Infinity's tiny crew have hidden agendas--Khouri the reluctant contract assassin believes she must kill Sylveste to save humanity--and there are two bodiless stowaways, one no longer human and one never human. Shocking truths emerge from bluff, betrayal, and ingenious lies.
The trail leads to a neutron star where an orbiting alien construct has defenses to challenge the Infinity's planet-wrecking superweapons.
At the heart of this artifact, the final revelations detonate--most satisfyingly. Dense with information and incident, this longish novel has no surplus fat and seems almost too short. A sparkling SF debut. --David Langford, Amazon.co.uk
From Publishers Weekly
This distant-past/far-future, hard sci-fi tour de force probes a galaxy-wide enigma: why does spacefaring humanity encounter so few remnants of intelligent life? Excavating the 900,000-year-old Amarantin civilization on its home world, Resurgam, archaeologist Dan Sylveste discovers evidence of a splinter cult that abandoned Resurgam for the stars but returned, only to be swallowed up by a mysterious cataclysm that destroyed all the Amarantins. Aboard the Nostalgia for Infinity, a vast light-hugger ship in interstellar space, the ominous Triumvirate of cyborg starfarers seeks Sylveste to heal its captain, afflicted by the deadly Melding Plague, which turns once-humans into their own semisentient spaceships. In Chasm City on the slum-ridden world of Yellowstone, assassin Ana Khouri joins the Nostalgia's crew intent on killing Sylveste. Clearly intoxicated by cutting-edge scientific research in bioengineering, space physics, cybernetics Reynolds spins a ravishingly inventive tale of intrigue. Hard SF addicts will applaud the author's talent for creating convincing alien beings and the often uneasy merging of human and machine intelligence, depicted here as nearly too frighteningly real for comfort. Others, however, may find these human-cybernetic hybrid characters chilling, dispassionate (except for their built-in drives toward revenge and murder) and foreboding. Reynolds's vision of a future dominated by artificial intelligence trembles with the ultimate cold of the dark between the stars.
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