Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds is an atmospheric space opera, with hard science fiction elements, that expects a lot out of its readers, but delivers a special mysterious narrative that captures the imagination.
5/5 24/25 possible score
Type of Story: Science fiction with elements of both space opera and hard science. Figuring out the unknown.
Plot – 5(Very Strong)
Characters – 4(Strong)
Setting/World Building – 5(Very Strong)
Writing Style – 5(Very Strong)
Heart & Mind Aspect – 5(Very Strong – Mind part)
Revelation Space is set in the closest systems from our solar system. These star systems consist of Gliese 687, 61 Cygni, E Eridani, Delta Pavonis, and many others. The ability to travel light-years away is only through the use of cryosleep(reefersleep in the novel), while the ships themselves, which are alien in origin, can get close to light speed but never pass it. Because of the extremely long travel time to get from system to system, the human race has experimented, and delved into technologies that increase their life span.
The story starts out with three separate storylines that become intertwined with each other. Even though each character’s story is 10-45 years different from each other, cryosleep, and the long lifespans of the characters cause them all to end up at the same moment. The first storyline is a man named Dan Sylveste. Sylveste is an archaeologist and explorer of the galaxy. He is on Resurgam, a planet in the Delta Pavonis system, because he is investigating the archaeology evidence of a complex alien civilization that lived almost 1 million years ago. This alien civilization, called the Amarantins, were destroyed in an event that completely killed all life on Resurgam. Sylveste is looking into this archaeological evidence to find out what happened during this event, so that the people living on Resurgam now will be prepared if something like it happens.
The second storyline follows a crew member of the lighthugger Nostalgia for Infinity, an enormous alien technology ship, used for system to system trading. Volyova is one of three leaders of the starcraft that is able to travel close to light speeds. These space traveling individuals have become something more than human, called Ultras, with a lot of machines integrated into their body, because of the amount of time they spend traveling, and in reefersleep. They are searching for Sylveste to cure their captain of a plague that is gradually taking over the captain while he is in reefersleep.
The last storyline is about an ex-soldier, turned assassin, named Khouri. Khouri takes a job that requires the assassination of Sylveste. After many years in reefersleep, she awakens when a lighthugger stops at her planet, bound to the planet of Resurgam, where Sylveste is located. Khouri becomes a part of the crew of the Nostalgia for Infinity, and everyone’s destiny is heading towards Sylveste on Resurgam. Their are other mysterious individuals and possible other life forms that also are extremely interested in the outcome of this meeting. This is a story of figuring out the unknown.
Why you might enjoy this book:
Revelation Space is written by an ex-astronomer, astrophysicist, in Alastair Reynolds. Because of Reynolds’ background with the European Space Agency, he brings a specialization to the fiction that is difficult to surpass. The amount of detail within this book is outstanding. I absolutely love detailed books, and the amount of hard science present in this book is extreme. I learned quite a bit about interstellar space travel and the physics behind everything.
The amount of detail just doesn’t stop with the scientific examples but with description as well. This is one of those books where almost every movement is described in detail. Every surface of the space ship is explained and the scope of everything is just breathtakingly beautifully described. You can get a clear sense of the setting that Reynolds is trying to create in every scene.
Due to this detail to setting, the atmosphere of this book comes through remarkably. It is a gothic, dark novel, that uses atmosphere to ramp up the suspense, mystery, and unknown elements. It reminds me so much of the movie Alien, by Ridley Scott, one of my favorite movies. Revelation Space isn’t straight out horror but there are definitely some unsettling moments.
The focus of the story isn’t necessarily the characters, but the plot, and setting. It is all about figuring out the unknown elements in this galaxy. Reynolds keeps a lot back from the reader and really lures the reader in with the mysterious. I absolutely love archaeology and it is nice to see space archaeology an extremely important part of this future. Even though the characters aren’t super amazing, one thing I really found endearing is how Reynolds treated the women in this novel. The book has a relatively even split between men and women but at no time does the gender of these individuals really matter one bit. The women and men can all do the same things in this book.
Lastly, Reynolds brings up some big questions about a lot of different issues. Some of these issues are: the prolonging of human life and when a human stops becoming a human, the age of the universe and how young the human race is in compared to the universe, the ability to copy consciousness into a computer program to use later even after someone is dead, and the effects of relatively slow space travel. I absolutely loved having to focus and concentrate while reading this book. I understood it perfectly fine but this is not a light read. I loved thinking about all these big questions so much.
Why you might not like this book:
Even though I absolutely loved this book, it might not be for everyone. The scientific instances may drag on too long for some people and might not interest everyone. Some people might find some of the scientific description over their heads. This is not a light read and you should only take to reading it when you are in the mood for something a bit heavy on the mind. The descriptions might be a little too verbose for some. If you are the type that doesn’t care for wordy descriptions, this might be difficult for you to read. Because of all this, some people might find the pacing of the book to be off.
The mystery and unknown galaxy is really the driving force behind this novel. If you aren’t really into wanting to figure out things that the author has set up with their world building, this might not be the novel for you. The characters are there to further that mystery and plot forward. This really isn’t a character novel at all, even though at the end I did end up liking some of them quite a bit.
I absolutely loved this novel and will be reading more from the Revelation Space world by Reynolds. Considering this is his first main novel published, I am really looking forward to his other work. His writing style is right up my alley, descriptive, atmospheric, and suspense driven. If you feel like trying to untangle a science fiction suspense while reading extremely detailed prose, give Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds a try. This is one of my new favorite books and hopefully with more reading, Reynolds will continue to blow me away.