on 7 August 2005
I love this book, like some people, I was bored by the first few pages, they didn't cut it for me. But I stuck at it and realised this book is a gem. The way Reynolds uncovers the plot piece by piece is beautiful.
Keep and eye on the dates underneath each chapter, story lines interupt each other and they are usually from different places at a different time. You have to create a timeline in your head with all these storylines on it. This may be confusing for some, but by the last third of the book Reynolds has tied them all together.
This is a beautifully written book, one of the best things about it is the lack of beauty described. Don't expect elegant space ships with nice gleaming curves, because there aren't many in this book.
Great read, recommended to all Science Fiction fans!
on 7 August 2001
I'd heard this debut novel was similar to both Iain Banks' and Dan Simmons' universes, and I was pleased to note that this was true - though only on a surface level. There's a very strong sense that the author sees the novel form as a vehicle for exploring science fact. It isn't hard to accept that this man is a hard scientist in his actual life, and even easier to accept that he's a passionate man in his imagined one. I don't think I have ever read science fiction that marries 'hard' sci-fi with a convincing narrative quite so assuredly. I was initially gripped by the solidity of his universe, but as the manifold plot lines began to unfold that all seemed to take a background role to the lives and motivations of his characters. I was never less than completely engrossed, and I put this down to Reynolds' keen eye for what is actually interesting in the sci-fi form. The primary 'revelation' for this reader was Reynolds' ability to create a dystopian future that is, intrinsically new. From Lighthugger ships and their nauseatingly intimidating weapons, through to the stupendous alien artefact we come to see a central to the story, there is always an underlying sense of purpose and symmetry. If you've read Banks, Simmons, Hamilton or even Sagan (and were impressed) then buy this book. It is that rare thing: an original science fiction universe; one you recognise but have never visited. Hard science fiction for non-'hard' sci-fi fans.
The first Reynolds book I read was the sublime House of Suns, which just blew me away with the depth of the vision and the pitiless adherence to the limitations that our understanding of science (currently) puts on our celestial ambitions. Revelation Space then was a little bit of a disappointment. It starts off slow - glacial, even - with protagonists that are difficult to like. It has the same merciless hard sci-fi conventions as House of Suns, but wrapped up in a backdrop of factional in-fighting on the planets dispersed through the galaxy. Sounds great, but much of the extensive world-building that is done at the beginning turns into something of a grind. At numerous points, I was ready to just give up on it because there was so much exposition and so little progress in the plot - it seemed needlessly self indulgent. I am however glad I stuck with it, because once you get past the half-way mark the pace starts to pick up admirably. I'm not saying the world building was unnecessary, but Revelation Space seems like it could have been a shorter book and been much better for it. Towards the end, various threads start to come together in a way that is utterly beguiling - unfortunately, some of the impact of that is lost when you realise how little you'd read was actually relevant to the story.
Nonetheless, the ending was sufficiently good that I'm going to read the next one - it's a book that was very much saved by the dismount. I'd give the first half a two, and the second half a solid four.
This is one of the hardest books I have read, though certainly not THE hardest, as it quickly sets its pace as heavy science fiction. Perhaps the happy medium between the elaborate science fantasies of Iain M Banks and the intense descriptions of Arthur C. Clark. Reynolds paints the portrait of the future with a brush that both can invision all the unknown fantasies as well as respect even the most detailed levels of astrophysics and science.
The story seemed to be quite slow to start, bouncing between three different characters whose destinies are bound to converge: Sylveste - a fantastic and renown archeologist who uncovers the remains of a long dead alien species on a barren moon and becomes infatuated with uncovering the secrets of their mysterious demise. Khouri - a soldier/bounty hunter who is hired to track down Sylveste and kill him, though she is never told why. Volyova - a weapons specialist aboard an interstellar starship, crewed by a handful of cyborgs, who seek Sylveste and the artificial simulation of his father, who may be the only man who can cure their dying Captain.
The story is a complicated one, set over a stretch of fifteen years from the first discovery of the remains of an ancient civilisation, to the end where all the different pieces of the story fit together.
Whilst the telling of the story is fantastic and very elaborate, I could not help but feel a small bit dissapointed towards the end. Given the length of the book and the patience that it expects of the reader, the story certainly could have been made more interesting or with a better twist at the ending. Many ideas were not covered as well as they could have been, the Shrouds for example were suggested to be the hiding grounds of the technologies of long since departed alien species, though they are never explained in the detail that they deserve. Perhaps that is something to be covered in the later books.
One thing to be certain is that this book marks the opening of a very interesting and fresh series of science fiction novels.
on 8 October 2008
This is a fantastic novel from Alastair Reynolds who really took a gamble with this in my opinion, and it paid off spectacularly.
Throughout the book the author continually demonstrates his significant grasp of Physics (he was working at Cern at the time afterall), and his painting of a future universe which is not all wine and roses is refreshing.
However he does have a tendancy to let himself down by overdoing the physics by intoducing overcomplicated technobabble where its sometimes not required, this can detract from the tension that he has so expertly built up and this can spoil certain scenes.
The sense of claustrophobia and lonleliness with the Volyova story arc is masterful storytelling. The story builds to a tumultous conclusion which leaves you really wanting more from this universe and the characters involved.
A great intoduction to a vast new universe.
on 4 January 2010
I wish I could give this book 5 stars - it is so close to being a sci-fi great, not so much for itself as a standalone story, but for what is promised in the novels that are to follow. The scale of Revelation Space is, pardon the expression, a revelation. Where does this guy get his ideas from? How does Reynolds manage to combine so many elements of the hard sci-fi genre with readability? The story arc spans billions of years and takes us across vast swathes of the galaxy, a galaxy that is surprisingly empty and quiet.
Nearly a million years ago, the Amarantin civilisation was annihilated just as it began to explore the stars. Revelation Space explains why, but the answer takes us on a crazy journey to the mysterious realm of the Shrouders, tells us the fate of Chasm City, introduces believable AI and shows us some of the flavours of human kind - future style, amongst a dozens other delights.
Although set in a future of staggering scientific advancement, Revelation Space is very familiar and entirely believable. However, I think Reynolds is hamstrung by his ambition in many ways. For example, there is so much information, so many essential intricacies to share with the reader, that at times he breaks one of the golden rules of writing - he tells rather than shows. All of a sudden, we'll get hit by a narrative slab that explains gaps in our knowledge or, characters will engage in a bit of `as you know, the blah blah blah.' In fairness, if Reynolds didn't do this, his books would be too large to bind! Furthermore, the story sometimes gets lost in the magnificence of the background and universe building. Some of the characters are a little weak, too cipher-like, and one, Sun Stealer didn't seem to quite sit right.
Nevertheless, I'll be reading every last one of this guy's books.
on 17 December 2003
Revelation Space is an great sci fi debut from an undoubtedly talented writer.
Dan Sylveste is an egotistical scientist on the planet Resurgam. He is obbsessed with Resurgam's long extinct culture, the Amarantin. This obsession activates a great threat, one that is enduringly hostile to all intelligent life that reaches a certain threshold. Humanity has now reached that threshold.
Reynolds handles his material deftly and with great skill, weaving parallell storylines that eventually come together. Most of the characters are pretty unlikable, and many have hidden agendas which are eventually revealed. Its the great story that propels you forward to an entirely novel and unexpected conclusion.
This is space opera in the grand tradition of Asimov and Van Vogt. Revelation Space is amply endowed with all the great stuff of classic space opera - fantastic technologies, amazing cultures and exotic locales. Reynolds has created an exciting but dark universe, one that has depth and substance and has a place in an unfolding cosmic order or design, which is the hallmark of great space opera. It will be fascinating watching Reynolds develop this universe in subsequent novels (see Redemption Ark and Absolution Gap, both of which continue the story started in Revelation Space - Reynolds Chasm City is more of an excursion, but set in the same universe).
So why 4 stars and not 5? Despite its great strengths Revelation Space is a tad long and would have benefitted by having a couple of hundred pages lobbed of. One gets the impression that Reynolds had decided to produce a breeze block of a certain length and did not stop writing untill he had the appropriate amount of words to constitute that breeze block. The novel is also a bit slow to start, and takes a couple of hundred pages to get into.
Despite that, Reynolds dark and compelling universe is well worth entering.
on 19 July 2000
Revelation Space is a sophisticated, gripping and satisfyingly well written novel that elevates the hard-SF genre above the undignified mire of techno-fetishism. This is a big book that many a poor trekkie will find heavy going, but for others its quality of prose, ingenuity of plot and clarity of vision will make it a satisfying and grippingly addictive read. In many ways 'Revelation Space' brooks several hard-SF trends. Alistair Reynolds has created a story of complex drama and progressive characterisation that few other SF authors come close to achieving. From the very beginning a disturbing sense of disclosure unfolds from a troubled archaeological dig on a long-dead alien world. The painstaking and thorough toil of the archaeologists, familiar to any viewer of "Time Team", is an immediate and reassuringly human contrast to the consumerist high-tech whiz-bang we normally expect to find at the heart of a pulp SF novel. Not that this book is short on titanic machines, terrifying weapons and twisted biologies. The story's Faustian central character is a convincing portrait of irrational brilliance and ontological paradox that lays bare the far-reaching implications of present day developments in genetics and machine intelligence. Alistair Reynolds is showing us how Western concepts of identity and subjectivity are being eaten alive by their own children, and Revelation Space takes us brilliantly to the endgame of our nihilistic techno-driven culture.
on 27 July 2001
Alastair Reynolds has produced an amazing masterpiece (an incredible debut!) blending the extrapolations of hard science with unforgettable characters set in a possible and disturbing future five centuries from now. This is a thinking person's novel, not light reading to be finished overnight. The conceptions from nanotechnology, astrophysics, genetic engineering, and computer science will stimulate you and keep you thinking long after finishing the book. It is so well written, that despite its length I was left wishing it would continue for a few hundred pages more. The vast panorama of intergalactic history and conflict, spanning billions of years, and the original ideas the author presents establish him as one of the most powerful voices of modern science fiction, in the tradition of Arthur Clarke, A.E. van Vogt, Jack Williamson, and a very few others. Although the power of this novel emerges primarily from the dizzying vistas of the future and the alien artifacts and civilizations it paints in cataclysmic brush strokes, it also features outstanding characters not easily forgotten: Khouri, the soldier assassin, and Ilia Volyova, the dynamic Triumvir on the starship Infinity, are easily two of the strongest female characters in sf literature, and the pathos of Dan Sylveste will long linger in memory as well. This novel is a first rate masterpiece of the calibre of Clarke's CHILDHOOD'S END, Williamson & Gunn's STAR BRIDGE, and A.E. van Vogt's VOYAGE OF THE SPACE BEAGLE. Highly recommended!
on 16 November 2001
Very promising debut novel. Character development was similar in style to Peter Hamilton (without the overt sexuality) - the characters were flawed and some unlikeable, although this did take away some of the empathy one might feel towards them. The plot was broad and the time scales involved mind boggling, whilst not being too complex for the reader to follow without backtracking. Ending was nicely drawn out and written, with just enough questions left to make people go back for more.
Only gripe? The Russian woman on the lighthugger (Volvoya from memory?) - maybe one too many leaps of insight and understanding to allow the story to flow.