Review: Revelation Space by Alistair Reynolds

Revelation Space

Revelation Space by Alistair Reynolds

Ace, 2000

When reading sci-fi I find I gravitate towards stories with that feature humans (or something resembling a human) explore/discover the remnants of a dead advanced civilisation. The Martian elements of Richard Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs novels are an excellent example (Broken Angels and Woken Furies in particular). This aspect of my reading habbit is what initially drew me to Revelation Space and, while the discorvery of ancient alien mysteries plays a part in the unfolding story, it is in the end eclipsed by the rather expansive nature of Reynold’s tale. The plot revolves around Dan Sylveste’s quest to discover the reason why an ancient alien species was wiped out completely, at the same time we get a starship’s quest to save it’s dying captain, an assassin lurking in the shadows, and potentially murderous synthetic lifeforms.

The novel gets off to a rather slow start and I found my interest hindered by the constant shifts between Sylveste, Triumvir Volyova, and Ana Khouri. The initial introduction to each didn’t seem to linger long enough to generate any major interest; at least in terms of plot. All three characters are well drawn, given enough eccentricity to draw them away from genre cliche, and situated in three interesting and diverse worlds. And while each of the settings used for these characters are interesting their geographic isolation from one another really stalls the plot and, unfortunatley, it isn’t until about halfway through the book that these three worlds converge and the action heats up.

While I found the Revelation space enjoyable it was not by any means a page-turner and I felt the Reynold’s writing wasn’t quite up to generating the level of supsense necessary to keep readers coming back for more. At the same time I can’t really fault his writing and I found that I really did enjoy his work. There are elements of the story that set my imagination running in particular the massive ship Nostalgia for Infinity could probably be the subject of a whole book itself. Reynolds did an excellent job of conjuring the mystery and hidden history of the ship enough so that I wish it had played a more central role in the plot.

Desipte the novel’s shortcomings I think it was a worthy read, especially for someone relatively new to the science fiction genre (I’m a fantasy fan mostly) looking to explore the genre. It serves as an excellent contrast to the more adventure/action heavy science fiction of Bujold (Miles Vorkosgian) and Weber (Honor Harrington). Revelation Space touches on some interesting themes, most notably the cost of science. Some of the elements in the story touch on the divide between cyberpunk and postcyberpunk fiction in particular when discussing the nature of humanity. Overall a recommended read.

Final Grade: B-

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