Monday, April 14, 2008

1009. Revelation Space

Alastair Reynolds is a fantastic new voice in the world of speculative fiction. Although this book was first published in 2000, I did not read it until this year. And boy, was I missing a wonderful book.

But first things first: A little bit about Alastair Reynolds, born in Wales, England. He has a Ph. D in Astronomy. For some reason, many scientists make good science fiction writers. I dunno why. Alastair has done a wonderful job here. This book tackles that eternal question people seem to ask in different ways: "Are we alone in the Universe?"

Now, it is true that question has been asked before, by many Science Fiction authors in many different versions. I always enjoy reading these different "takes" (as they are called) on this theme. What's new, or refreshing in this story is neither the setting or the build-up behind it, but the originality of the characters.

You know, a long time time ago, a science fiction editor by the name of John W. Campbell, decided that characters were just as important to a Scientific speculative fiction story as the underlying science, the story itself. Without characters indeed, there is no story. Alastair Reynolds achieves this in spades. It's the characters that draw you into the story. Oh, there is enough scientific exposition to make you believe that you are 500 years in the future. But Dan Sylveste and Ilia Volyova will make you believe that you are there.

Dan Sylveste is investigating the "Amarantin puzzle", an extinct race, whose archaeological traces humanity has been investigating for years on different worlds. Yet, on this world that humans have colonized, the "Amarantin" seem to have accomplished something. They seem to have achieved a level of technological sophistication, maybe at the humanity's current level or even beyond, a completely unexpected development. WHY? All previously extinct races that humanity had come across had never reached this level, EXCEPT for humans themselves.

There are of course the "Shrouders", an unknown conglomeration of Alien entities or Alien intelligences hiding behind a physical shroud in space which is impenetrable...and then there are the "Inhibitors". Who are the "Inhibitors"? And what do they want with humanity?

I do not want to give more of the plot so as not to spoil it. Suffice it to say, that A.I.s are central to this book, as well as Light-Huggers (ships that accelerate UP TO the speed of light) -- no FTL crap in this book. Dan Sylveste's father was one of the first people capable of downloading his mind into a computer. He was also the first to make contact with the "Shrouders". Since that time, Dan Sylveste himself attempted contact with the "Shrouders". And with this set-up we're thrown into a whirlwind, action whodunit with lots of mystery. The crew of the light-hugger Nostalgia for Infinity is of course central to the plot, as well as events set in motion hundreds of years in the past.

I highly recommend this book. Although, it will leave some questions unanswered, the book reaches a satisfying conclusion -- yet it leaves you hungering for more! Good thing then, that Alastair Reynolds has written 4 more books set in the same universe as "Revelation Space":

  1. Chasm City (2001)
  2. Redemption Ark (2002)
  3. Absolution Gap (2003)
  4. The Prefect (2007)

I give this book 4 and one half stars our of 5.

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