Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Review of "Revelation Space" by Alastair Reynolds

"Revelation Space" takes place in the 26th century, when humans have achieved space travel and can journey vast distances in 'lighthugger' ships that fly at almost the speed of light.

The story opens on the planet Resurgam, which was inhabited by the Amarantin civilization until nine hundred thousand years ago. At that time, just when the Amarantin were about to attain space flight, a catastrophe wiped out the entire race. Now, small human settlements populate Resurgam, one of which is led by Dan Sylveste - an archaeologist obsessed with studying the Amarantin and what happened to them.

Dan Sylveste is famous for being one of only a few humans who have visited two mysterious alien worlds: the Pattern Jugglers - an obscure oceanic race that can imprint information on the brains of visitors; and the Shrouders - hidden beings who guard the most dangerous devices in the galaxy. In fact, Dan is the only human who ever returned alive from a trip to the Shrouders.

Dan is also well-known for being the son of the brilliant deceased scientist, Calvin Sylveste. The thing is, though Calvin is dead, Dan can still see him and talk to him. Calvin's neural patterns have been saved and Dan can call up his father's image - which usually shows up reclining in a comfortable chair - when he needs to consult with the great man.

While Dan is going about his business (voluntarily and involuntarily) on Resurgam, a decrepit lighthugger called 'Nostalgia for Infinity' - which has lost almost everyone onboard - is trawling the galaxy looking for the archaeologist. The spaceship is infected with the Melding Plague, a nanotech virus that attacks both organic and inorganic substances.

The Plague - which has badly damaged the ship - also infected the Nostalgia's skipper, Captain Brannigan, while he was in reefersleep (suspended animation). The unfortunate Brannigan is now a grotesque being who's expanding, mutating, and merging with the spaceship. Dan Sylveste once came aboard the Nostalgia to treat the Captain (with dead Calvin's help).....and the crew wants the archaeologist to help Brannigan once again. Meanwhile, the Captain is being kept at a temperature of absolute zero to retard the spread of the virus.

The Nostalgia's leading crew members are a Triumverate consisting of: Volyova - a female munitions expert who controls a ginormous cache of weapons that ranges from guns to star-destroyers; Sajaki - the defacto captain of the ship; and Hegazi - Sajaki's yes-man. Sajaki and Hegazi are extreme 'Ultras' - humans who have been exponentially enhanced with technological implants and bionic devices. The ship also carries a myriad of robotic servitors - including janitor rats - that function as auxiliary help.

The last major character in the story is a woman named Khouri. Khouri is a former soldier who was accidently transported to the planet Yellowstone while she was in reefersleep. On Yellowstone, Khouri became an assassin in a kind of 'Westworld' game. Bored rich people looking for excitement could arrange for an assassin to hunt them down while they tried to evade the killer. But if Khouri is the assigned assassin, the patron is a dead duck because Khouri never fails. Thus, Khouri attracts the attention of a woman called Mademoiseille, who 'hires' (extorts) Khouri to kill Dan. Mademoiselle alleges that the future of humankind depends on Dan's death.

As the story plays out Khouri eventually gets on board the Nostalgia - which is also searching for Dan. And that's all I can say without spoilers.

Other characters in the story include Resurgam residents who want to thwart Dan's research into the Amarantin; a journalist who's compiling Dan's biography; a Nostalgia gunnery officer who goes completely insane; a wily cyber-being with an agenda; Dan's deceased wife; and more.

The book is almost 600 pages long, and there's plenty of techno-speak that describes planets, stars, spaceships, shuttles, weapons, bionic devices, alien races, alien artifacts, space-time, objective time, subjective time, alpha and beta 'copies' of dead people, sophisticated spacesuits, esoteric discoveries, etc. The book also has a number of sub-plots; some exciting shootouts; plenty of twists, turns, and surprises; and an innovative and compelling climax.

The author tends to be a bit verbose and over-descriptive at times, which slows down the story - and I occasionally had to resist skimming. Overall though, I enjoyed the book, which is imaginative and well-written. Highly recommended to science fiction fans.

Rating: 4 stars

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