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Revelation Space Hardcover – June 1, 2001
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
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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.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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My biggest gripe with the book - at least, with the Kindle version I have - is that it is absolutely riddled with typos. I proofread my text messages more thoroughly than this book's editor apparently did. Misspelled words, out of place punctuation, or even the wrong word entirely; you name a possible error, odds are good you'll find it in this book. Still, I did not factor this into my rating, because a good story is still a good story. No, the reason I'm giving Revelation Space four stars rather than five, is that, at its core, it is a relatively straightforward action-adventure, and I feel the need to save a full five-star rating for those books which truly blow my mind. Again, this was a great read, and I'd recommend it to others in a heartbeat, but it wasn't the sort of book that one must spend days or weeks digesting, whose implications one feels in one's day-to-day life, whose concepts advance the genre of science fiction. It was simply a fun and compelling read. Ignore the typos and pick it up today if that sounds like your kind of thing!
The slight annoyance that the first truly inciting incident, in my opinion, that pertains to the actual main plot, happened over 100 pages in, was quickly forgotten as one intriguing thing after another kept propelling me deeper and deeper into the story.
Without rehashing the plot or the main ideas that fed this fascinating space opera, let me just say that the many tiny threads of this tapestry come together beautifully, making perfect sense, no single loose end left dangling, no curiosity unsatisfied, and no thirst unquenched.
The resolution is highly gratifying, and measures up to the mounting tension. And if you enjoy a bit of hard science-fiction, Reynold's love of explaining things in detail, without ever getting info-dumpy, will fully satisfy as well. The intriguing main character, Dan Sylveste, and the equally interesting cast converging on him, are suitable vessels to explore the vastness of Reynold's imagination. And the grand setting he created for them to act against is truly unforgettable.
All in all, a very recommendable novel, especially for pretentious readers. Not so well suited for impatient readers looking for immediate, effortless satisfaction.
This isn't a novel that lends itself to a brief summary. Suffice it to say that Sylveste believes himself to be the only person who has returned alive and sane from a journey into Revelation Space, home of the Shrouders. Sylveste has since made his life on Resurgam, where a series of problems have interfered with his study of the alien race that once inhabited the planet: Sylveste's enemies want to gain control of his father (Calvin), who no longer exists in corporeal form; political unrest leads to his kidnapping; the Ultras (humans who have adapted to a life spent in interplanetary travel) want to snatch Sylveste and Calvin from Resurgam in the hope that they can restore the health of their ship's frozen captain, the victim of a virus that is slowly infecting the entire ship. An assassin named Khouri contrives to join the crew of the Ultra ship after being recruited by the Mademoiselle to kill Sylveste. Khouri doesn't know whether to believe that Sylveste is the threat to humankind that the Mademoiselle makes him out to be, and in any event she has problems of her own: the Mademoiselle and something called Sun Stealer are waging a war to control her. The story goes on from there ... and on ... and on ....
My most significant complaint about Revelation Space is that Reynolds overloads the reader with redundant and irrelevant information, making this lengthy novel longer than it needs to be. Revelation Space suffers from an excess of exposition: paragraph after mind numbing paragraph of background detail that the reader doesn't need to know.
As for grand ideas: the concept of revelation space implies the occurrence of revelations. Certainly the few humans who enter the Shroud and manage to return are changed by the experience, but those changes seem little different from standard science fiction fare. The notion of Pattern Jugglers seeded in the oceans of various worlds and the unique function they serve is intriguing, but it is also the closest Reynolds comes to a grand idea. The rest of the novel we've seen before: weaponized battle suits; an interstellar ship that more or less takes on a life of its own; a lost alien civilization that tries to escape its fate, leaving behind markers which guide intrepid humans to trouble. The cutely named entity known as the Sun Stealer comes across as a familiar quasi-cybernetic threat, while the virus that is transforming the Ultra captain into something nonhuman is equally recognizable.
Arguably, there's an epic story buried in the background. We're told about the Dawn War that ended a billion years ago; its aftermath explains why there is so little alien life in the galaxy as Reynolds imagines it. Yet that episode of galactic history is told in several paragraphs that inform the surrounding story. The story of the Dawn War might have been more intriguing than the one Reynolds told.
In the end, all the words add up to not much that's new or eventful, leaving a clever but overly long tale of science fiction adventure. The ending smartly ties together the novel's larger concepts, but those concepts are diminished by the unremarkable story that surrounds them. Revelation Space is good for what it is: an entertaining, but far from ground-breaking, story of people on a quest to understand their part in the universe. For that reason, I recommend it to science fiction fans, but I don't think it deserves the full measure of praise that has been heaped upon it.
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