Series: Revelation Space (#1)
Genre: Hard SF/Space Opera
Publication Date: 2000
An archaeological dig on an alien world. An assassination plot years in the making. A threat to all life in the Galaxy. A handful of humans tie these events together, but that does not mean they can stop them . . .
Alastair Reynolds is an author who continues to infuriate me. On the face of it, his work has everything I should love about science fiction. Big sweeping storylines that cover multiple planets, a rich and deep history that spans millions of years, and a healthy respect for science that keeps to current knowledge while pushing that understanding to the limit. Why then, I keep asking myself, do I not like the majority of Reynolds’ novels? I’ve read (and reviewed) his Revenger trilogy and really enjoyed the oddly Gothic, piratical space opera. They had a slight YA feel to them at times, but that doesn’t bother me as much a sit does some people. Then there’s Reynolds’ short fiction, which is great. Beyond the Aquila Rift is a phenomenal collection, and Slow Bullets is one of the finest SF novellas out there. But when it comes to his longer, fully adult science fiction, I’ve just not been as satisfied. Aurora Rising was a slog to get through, and while House of Suns had some interesting ideas, the execution left a lot to be desired. Sadly, Reynolds’ most famous work Revelation Space is another misfire.
Things get off to a weak start with the first few chapters jumping backwards and forwards in time. Or at least, I think they do. With relativistic speeds in play, sections on lighthugger spacecraft and on planetary surfaces don’t seem to be taking place at the same rate. Anything that bends or plays with time is hard for me to get my head around, and I spent so much effort trying to work out what the timeline was that I lost the ability to focus on the main plot. And to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what the main plot was. there was political double-dealing, an archaeological mystery, but the real story is about the Inhibitors, who are almost certainly an influence for Mass Effect‘s Reapers. An answer to the Fermi Paradox, they’re immortal artificial lifeforms that go around wiping out civilisations. But even this monumental threat didn’t take up as much of the narrative as you might think. There is just so much going on here it’s hard to keep track of.
I think my main issue with Revelation Space is the disconnect between the hard-as-nails SF and Reynolds’ fanciful, even baroque style of writing. I don’t know what it is about his prose. It’s certainly not as evocative as some I’ve read, but it is writing that calls attention to itself. So much attention in fact, that I spent more time trying to penetrate the language than I did enjoying the story. It’s irritatingly clunky, and I would usually chalk it up to a debut novel, but having read more of his work, this is simply Reynolds’ style. It worked in the softer Revenger trilogy, but here it jars against the clinical scientific accuracy of the worldbuilding.
Revelation Space will likely be my last foray into Reynolds’ novels, barring a return to the Revenger universe. A shame, but this classic is not for me.