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March 07, 2006

Revelation Space - Alistair Reynolds

**Contains Big Spoilers**

Space Opera with big ideas

This will make your head hurt if you read too much. Hardly a sentence is left untouched by some description of a technological marvel. It all gets a bit much after a while and you'll be turning to "War and Peace" for a little light relief. This is not to say that the book is boring, in fact, it's so interesting and full of ideas you won't want to put it down at all.

Getting a niggly complaint out of the way, the chapter headings are useless. They tell the date and place of the action, which would be fine, except that this changes many times during the chapter. So in the middle of the chapter the action can jump 20 years into the future, but sometimes the chapter changes and it's exactly the same time and place. No logic in a very logical book, bad.

Main characters are:

Sylveste, genius archeologist, investigating why life on the planet Resurgam was destroyed 99 thousand years previously by it's sun.

Volyova, one of the crew of a lighthugger spacecraft. This spacecraft has some hefty planet destroying weapons.

Kouri, soldier and assassin, recruited to operate weapon cache on Volyova's spacecraft, and to kill Sylveste.

There are lots of other characters, it's a big book, we'll see some of them in a minute.

The structure of the book keeps the main characters apart for the first half. A lot is hidden from us, and doesn't get revealed till the end. This keeps us reading of course, to solve the mystery.

The Shrouders are an alien race hidden in an unapproachable area of space. Sylveste finds a way to get close, and enters their 'Revelation Space'. In the same mission his assistant is killed. He goes to Resurgam to investigate why something called the Event killed all the life there thousands of years previously. Kouri is recruited by the mysterious Madamoiselle, to infiltrate the crew on Volyova's ship, and go with them to Resurgam and kill Sylveste. Volyova's captain is dying of an advanced plague, and her colleague Sajaki is taking them to Resurgam to get Sylveste. Sylveste's father Calvin, is dead, but his personality has been stored and can be implanted temporarily inside Sylvestes head. In this way he will be able to operate on Volyova's captain as Calvin is a super genius.

Are you keeping up with this...?

Once they all get to Resurgam, which is in civil war, the action shifts to a nearby neutron star and a planet orbiting it. This planet turns out to be artificial, hiding what Sylveste has come to find, and the star is not what it appears either.

There are lots of double crosses, and some minor characters get killed, and an entity called Sun Stealer takes over the ship. The revelation at the end is very good, and sets up the universe for what I expect will be a good conflict in the sequels. Look away now if you don't want to know....that the Inhibitors were a race who set up machines to kill life wherever it developed. The race on Resurgam were nearly wiped out by one of these machines, but they managed to hide it inside the planet orbiting the neatron star near Resurgam. Then they became the Shrouders. They waited hidden from the rest of the universe. When Sylveste insiltrated Revelation Space, the Shrouders entered his mind. The plan was to use him to get to the Inhibitors machine to see if it was still working. If it was of course mankind would get wiped out. If not, then the Shrouders could come back to normal space. The Madamoiselle was the other person on Sylveste's trip to the Shrouders and didn't die. She realised this plan, though Sylveste was unaware of what he was doing. She decided he had to be killed, to save the rest of humanity.

It's a very thought-provoking book, very intense, and it nearly all makes sense. Sajaki is not dealt with very well though. He is feared immensely, and when he tries to scan Kouri's mind, a precedure likely to kill her, she hardly complains. volyova is mortally afraid of him too. And yet, all it takes in the end is a bracelet with knives that dig into his wrist to totally disable him. He is a synthetically enhanced human, with nano healers in his blood, and the hand is back to normal in hours, so why didn't he fight. He also gets disposed of unceremoniously by Sun Stealer soon afterwards. By the way, Sun Stealer is a Shrouder entity, passed into the ships computer by a mind interface with Sylveste.

Thinking about it, perhaps as Volyova and Kouri travel towards Resurgam, it seems that they are 20 years behind in time, but perhaps they occupy the same time, and the sub-light speed relativity effects bring them forward. So the whole book's action really is chronological.

There is so much to say, I've left out loads of important stuff, but I'd advise you to read this one if you like hard science fiction novels in the Arthur C Clark, Peter F Hamilton vein.

[note: this review was written over two years ago. I've now finished the trilogy and hope to put up reviews of the other books soon. The review I'm not that happy with really, as rereading it now, even I am struggling to unnderstand what was going on. A more general description of the story would have been better.]

Posted by se71 at March 7, 2006 01:34 PM


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