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alastair reynolds

a primer 02:02

The final character in Reynolds' opus is Ana Khouri. Khouri was a professional soldier from Sky's Edge, a backward system over a decade of travel from Yellowstone. Founded by the enigmatic Sky Haussman, the settlers of Sky's Edge crucified their saviour for reasons lost in the dim mist of history. Reviled yet worshipped, they named their system after Haussman. Khouri was a mercenary on the Edge, a planet of constant warfare. After a clerical error however, she was shipped off to Yellowstone, and awoke 10 years later knowing she would never see her husband again. After meeting a shadowy figure in Chasm City's underworld, Khouri becomes part of an elaborate game - where hunters are paid to kill voluntary prey. Soon however, Khouri is forcibly recruited by a figure known only as the 'Mademoiselle'. She makes an offer Khouri cannot refuse, and asks of her only a simple request. She must find Dan Sylveste, and kill him. Resurgam is a backwater, and transport there near impossible. Eventually however, someone's bound to come along. Until then, Khouri descends into the oblivioun of Reefersleep.

Something is out there, something Dan Sylveste has awakened on Resurgam. A force so powerful it wipes out races in an eyeblink, and has worked to supress intelligent life for millions of years. A force so powerful, humanity cannot hope to stand against it. If one thing defines mankind however, it is our nature to stand against the inevitable, rationality be damned.

This is story that Reynolds begins to tell in 'Revelation Space', and this is only the beginning. This saga is not just one of sacrifice and redemption, it's a story of selfishness, corruption, despair, ambition, and damnation. Above all however, at its heart it is a poignant narrative of instinct over reason, and the ability of humanity to endure. This is not a happy read - Reynolds' saga is full of hopelessness and depression. It asserts that no matter how hard we try, some things cannot be fought. But sometimes, all that matters is the fighting. Sometimes, things turn out differently than could have been hoped for, much less calculated. Reynolds' awe-inspiring space opera is a story of human nature spread against galactic epochs of millions of years. Humbling, depressing, and ridiculously entertaining.

Reynolds populates his novels with surreal worlds, fascinating readers with the details. There's never too much: In fact, we're often fed only tantalizing bits. Elements of horror are strongly woven into the novels, brought to life by Reynolds vivid prose. The scrimshaw suit in 'Absolution Gap' for instance, is one of the most satisfying and intriguing descriptive devices in modern science fiction. Reynolds' work is full of engaging ideas, some of them are only touched on tangentially - yet still they stay with the reader throughout the entirey of the reading process. The worlds he brings to life, and the language he conveys them in, is simply superlative. The universe of 'Revelation Space' can only be described as a triumph of speculative fiction.

So where to begin? Somewhat contrary to what the author himself says (so uh, read the interview and decide for yourself) it's our opinion that you head over to your bookstore/library, and pick up a copy of 'Chasm City' (review link) first. Although it was written after 'Revelation Space' as a stand-alone novel that can be read at any point, we find it works best as an introduction to Reynolds' world. Learn the truth about Sky's Edge - the fascinating story of Sky Haussman, and the equally engaging story of Tanner Mirabel. 'Chasm City' tells the story and histories of people and places that appear in the other novels, but people/locations of chronologically subsequent novels aren't necessarily in 'Chasm City'. How's that for an unwieldy sentence? In addition, Reading 'Chasm City' first allows you to get acquainted with the technology/backstory of the main novels. This is especially appreciated when one dives into the complex 'Revelation Space' - this way you don't have to sweat the details and can focus on the plot lines.

Alternatively, you can take Mr. Reynolds advice (no doubt more valid then ours... but we like to tell people what to do. not that they do it, but you get the point), and read 'Chasm City' whenever you get a hold of it. It won't ruin your experience at all - but in our humble opinion, if you read 'Chasm City' first, you'll have a greater appreciation for the trilogy as a whole. However you decide to approach them, make sure you do approach them. These are goliaths of the genre, and every fan out there should give them a try.

That being said, feel free to check out our individual book reviews, which contain a more in the way of technical criticsm. We're not arguing with Reynolds' mastery of the genre, but there are some points to the individual books we had a few slight issues with. Don't get us wrong - this is space opera on the highest magnitude, right up there with the 'Night's Dawn Trilogy', and perhaps a little more meaningful. And more depressing - don't forget that. So grab your Xanax, and dive into the world of 'Revelation Space'. (just a note here, that's in no way a prescription, so don't try to pass it off as such, you dirty little...)