Alastair Reynolds' debut novel, 'Revelation Space', has been hailed by critics all over as a triumphant first entry in a groundbreaking new space opera. For once, it seems they might be on to something
Dan Sylveste is the son of the legendary Calvin Sylveste, on of the most powerful figures on the prosperous planet of Yellowstone in the Epsilon Eridani system. Dan however, has had enough of Epsilon Eridani, and has set his sights on the archaelogical dig on the backwater planet of Resurgam.
Ever since humanity ascended into space, they've been struck by the lack of alien civilizations. Given the number of life supporting worlds, even the most conservative models suggest dozens of alien species in humanity's sphere of influence, but only a couple have been found. The evidence however, points to a galaxy once flourishing with life - the remants of alien cultures are abundant. Resurgam was once home to the Amarantin, who ceased to exist almost a million years ago. Sylveste is desperate to learn what happened to them, and if humanity is destined for the same fate.
Back on Yellowstone, Ana Khouri is a professional athlete, who's sport of choice involves hunting down and killing willing human prey. A soldier born on Sky's Edge, a system over a decade away, a rather nasty clerical error saw her immersed in reefersleep and accidently shipped off to Epsilon Eridani light years away from her husband. Resigning herself to life on Yellowstone, she makes the aquaintance of one Tanner Mirabel, and settles into her new life. One day she's approached by a mysterious figure known only as the Mademoiselle, and recruited on a mission to journey to distant Resurgram. Her goal is a simple one - to assasinate Dan Sylveste at all costs.
Ilia Volyova is just about to leave for Resurgam aboard a massive light hugger crewed by a handful of Ultras, a human faction given over to genetic modification and spacefaring. Turns out she needs a new gunnery officer, as the last one seemed to have a problem holding on to sanity. She recruits Khouri, and the Nostalgia for Inifinity begins the years-long journey to Regursam. Their captain is infected with a variant of the melding plague - a crippling disease attacking both organic and technological systems. Frozen in stasis, his only hope of surviving is the expertise of Calvin Sylveste, or failing that, Dan.
With three separate storylines to follow early on, the narrative is disjointed as Reynolds spends only a few pages before jumping around to another character. As Sylveste is on Resurgam in real time, the other characters are preparing for a decade long voyage, which can make it difficult for the reader to keep various timeframes in perspective. Soon enough however, Reynolds expertly weaves these separate threads together into a cohesive and gripping narrative.
The plotline is a suffciently complex one, with events quickly becoming part of a titanic saga millions of years in the making. The transition from isolated character driven events to true space opera is flawless. Despite the scale, the writing never slows. Throughout the novel Reynolds does an excellent job parcelling out tantalizing tidbits of his overarching plot elements, leaving the reader salivating for more. The galactic history that slowly unfolds is a riveting one, and present implications are less than heartening. In addition. there's plenty of beautifully scripted action sequences, and gorgeous descriptions - especially where the Nostalgia for Inifinity is concerned. Reynolds paints a vivid picture of a haunting machine in decline, and a crew that may as well be ghosts. His references to the few alien cultures humanity has encountered - The Pattern Jugglers, and the Shrouders - are exciting, and truly justify the word 'alien'.
Reynolds also has a flair for hard science, and there's plenty of it. He displays a knack for creating and explaining esoteric technologies, truly immersing the reader into the world of 'Revelation Space'. He also displays an amazing knowledge of astrophysics, and he manages to convey a wealth of information in a relatively simple manner.
There's only a handful of characters, and truth be told they're not developed all that well. At least not to the point where the reader actually likes any of them, although their motivations are explained and usually justified. In true technogothic style, most of the characters are capable of some pretty ruthless actions, and have done worse in their past. Khouri is probably the most likable character, although she seems quite willing to toss common sense to the wind on any number of occasions.
The beautiful writing creates surreal and vivid worlds, and sets the backdrop for some great action and plot development. The undeniable dark narrative interweaves wonderfully with science fiction background, making for a truly unique reading experience. 'Revelation Space' manages to set the stage for following novels without comprimising any of it's pacing or interest. The story that has begun to emerge is only the first salvo in what is shaping up to be a triumph of science fiction.