Saturday, 25 May 2013

'Revelation Space' by Alastair Reynolds

As a fan of Peter F Hamilton (and having run out of his novels to read - get writing Peter), Revelation Space has been on my to be read list for a while with Alastair Reynolds in my mind as the other big British science fiction writing epic space opera. Finally, I get around to it.

Revelation Space is a standalone novel, but is the first of five books (thus far) in the 'Revelation Space Universe', with a few linked short stories too. Revelation Space follows Dan Sylveste, a scientist, archeologist and quite a politically controversial figure. He is obsessed with a long extinct alien race called the Amarantin, convinced that there is something strange and unexplained about their extinction, and is drawn to their home-world, Resurgem, to do some digging literally. Unfortunately before he manages to reveal the secret, there is a coup, and he is thrown in jail... Throw in a reluctant assassin, strange alien forces and a starship the size of a city, and you've got the making of a great novel.

Revelation Space is set in the 23rd century, and is a little darker in tone than many space operas, but is by no means dystopic. There are very few surviving alien races, and those that are known about are elusive and mysterious. The universe and its laws are also more convincing than many space operas - no faster than light travel for one thing, probably stemming from Reynolds' previous job as a physicist.

So what did I think? Well obviously I really enjoyed it, giving it 5 stars. It was quite a slow book to get going, only becoming truly gripping towards the end. But the world building was fantastic, the characters well rounded, and plenty of hooks and mysteries to keep you interested - pretty much all of which were resolved/answered by the end while still leaving plenty of scope for new books.

I read recently Frederick Pohl's description of what makes a good science fiction novel, which he sets out as a series of questions. I thought I'd consider them here as part of this review.

Does the story tell me something worth knowing, that I had not known before, about the relationship between man and technology? - Yes it does. Humans have evolved and altered themselves in many ways, a few of which are described in detail here, others hinted at.

Does it enlighten me on some area of science where I had been in the dark? Yes and no. There's a lot of hard science in here, how much of that I've retained is questionable as the story always took precedence over the science, but there's a lot to learn in this book.

Does it open a new horizon for my thinking? Does it lead me to think new kinds of thoughts, that I would not otherwise perhaps have thought at all? - Yes it does, some truly galaxy spanning thoughts, and an interesting and plausible possible answer to one of science and cosmology's greatest mysteries. If that don't hook you, I don't know what will!

Does it suggest possibilities about the alternative possible future courses my world can take? - Yes. It offers a convincing possible future for humankind (though not specifically Earth, which I'm not sure was ever mentioned).

Does it illuminate events and trends of today, by showing me where they may lead tomorrow? - Yes, does that.

Does it give me a fresh and objective point of view on my own world and culture, perhaps by letting me see it through the eyes of a different kind of creature entirely, from a planet light-years away? - While the book is mostly told from a human point of view, it does kind of do this, yeah.

Overall a great book, I think I've discovered a new favourite author and can't wait to read more...