Customer Review

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Back on form � but still flawed., 26 Jan 2005
This review is from: Redemption Ark (GOLLANCZ S.F.) (Paperback)
First off, despite any explanatory cover blurb, please be aware that Redemption Ark is Alistair Reynolds 3rd novel, and your enjoyment of it will depend largely on having read his previous 2 novels, as this is a direct sequel to Revelation Space, while also building on some characters introduced in Chasm City. Personally I found that Revelation Space was a very encouraging debut, and dismissed the rough edges as merely a new author getting to grips with his craft, yet Chasm City - despite some good material - seemed to be a massive step backwards in quality, with Reynolds writing appearing rather ham fisted at times.
Reynolds strengths have always been in the big science fiction concepts, but what has previously let him down has been poor pacing and structure, with Chasm City being particularly guilty of employing glaring deus ex machina and having character's entirely lacking in logical motivation. The good news is that Redemption Ark is a return to form after the sloppy Chasm City, though the novel is still far from flawless.
Pacing is still a problem for Reynolds - Redemption Ark on the one hand feels too bloated at 650 pages, with the fairly slight background story of the Inhibitors being repeated over and over again, yet at the same time crucial moments in the story are glossed over. Two big set pieces come to mind especially, first the highjacking of a Lighthugger ship - supposedly something so outrageous no-one has ever attempted it before; Reynolds takes time to build up the situation and the assault crew to take over the ship - then simply cuts right past the action scene to show the ship having been captured without actually showing us how. Worse is the gutted climax, as after an interstellar chase sequence lasting at least one hundred pages Reynolds again cuts out the final confrontation between the forces of the defecting Clavain and his Conjoiner pursuers, instead opting to gloss over the events by jumping forward in time and offering a brief flashback synopsis. The impression given is that Reynolds got carried away overwriting this novel, then realised he was up against a deadline (or a word count) and frantically hacked away chunks of the text - unfortunately the excised material sounds more interesting than some of what is left.
On the positive side Redemption Ark sees some of the best characterisation yet from Reynolds, with - for the most part - characters acting logically and with clear objectives and motivations. Unfortunately there is one character that doesn't quite convince in this area, and that's Clavain himself - the novel depends on a lot of it's action due to Clavain's defection from the hive-mind Conjoiners and his quest to capture the hell-class weapons of Volyova, but in both cases Clavain overreacts to an alarming degree. His defection that kicks the novel off seemingly comes out of nowhere, and is accompanied by a surprising amount of violence towards his erstwhile friends, while his determination to capture the hell-class weapons is slightly confusing - both he and Volyova want to use the weapons to destroy the humanity-culling Inhibitor machines, but rather than offering his assistance in a peaceful manner he comes in all guns blazing. Without Clavain's actions there wouldn't be much of a novel here, but he doesn't always convince.
The only other real problem with Redemption Ark is the traditional one shared by middle books of trilogies - the set-up has already occurred, and nothing is resolved at the novels end: if you want the climax you'll have to read Absolution Gap as well. Despite it's construction flaws Chasm City did at least offer some new locations and environments compared to Revelation Space - by contrast Redemption Ark contents itself to play with the established characters and setting, so Reynolds is unable to generate any 'sense of wonder' here.
Still, while these annoying little flaws stop Reynolds from being as good an author as he continually promises to be, Redemption Ark is a generally enjoyable hard-sf space opera, and a distinct improvement on Chasm City. To put it simply, if you enjoyed Revelation Space and wanted to find out what happened to the characters next, Redemption Ark will be for you.
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