Having read Reynolds' second book Chasm City, I decided to try his first, Revelation Space. It is set in the same universe, where mankind has splintered into different sects and groups, and travels the galaxy at just under the speed of light in giant "lighhuggers."
Revelation Space revolves around the destruction of an alien species a million years before. Sylveste, essentially an archeaologist, believes that the aliens were advanced spacefarers, who somehow brought about their own destcrution. Few believe him, but one assassin is sent to kill him by somebody who obviously does, someone who fears that his actions may trigger humanity's destruction.
Mixed in to this story are politics, a decaying lighhugger with an infected captain and weapons of unimaginable power, computer constructs, coups and politics and the brain-bending effects of near-light speed travel and the relativistic effects. It's all great fun and the eventual unravelling of what happened to the aliens is exciting and interesting. The characters are well-drawn - if a little too similar - and the pace is good. Why only 3 stars then?
First the dialogue. It's fine but somehow lacks any real zest or zip. It's a little stodgy in truth and in places it creaks. Second, the ideas. There are simply too many. I liked the lighthuggers, the Ultras, the Inhibitors, the melding plague and even the constructs. But did we also need the Pattern Jugglers, the Shrouds, Hell-class weapons, cloning, thermal-lift aircraft, neutron-star computers and so on? Too many, with not enough detail on the important ones means that the reader becomes frustrated. For example, the history of the aliens and how they became technologically advnaced is passed over very quickly when it is of vital importance. Similarly, the weapons are obviously a set-up for the next book.
Third, the aliens don't really work for me. They appear to be massively advanced compared with humans but they still get wiped out rather easily. Their background and history are a little feeble too, and the set-up feels forced - would highly advanced aliens really leave no trace of their technological civilisation?. Fourth, Reynolds tries a little bit too hard on the cyperpunk/noir side of things. Why have rats eat somebody? Why the decpitation? Perhaps sci-fi demands that nowadays but it's not really necessary. I'm not squemish but whereas with Banks and Gibson it's part of their style and the story, here it feels added-in.
Still, despite my gripes, it's a good book, with a lot of good ideas. I recommend for a long plane journey or a couple of days on the beach, and intend to read the sequels.