Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

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Book Information  
AuthorAlastair Reynolds
TitleRevelation Space
GenreScience Fiction
Book Reviews / Comments (submitted by readers)
Submitted by Geoff Foster (Mugwump) 
(Oct 19, 2003)

You might be a touch surprised when I say this but: the thing about good space opera is that it's fiendishly difficult to write.

Remember the objective here is to transport you to, and make you believe in, a totally unbelievable environment, where a totally unbelievable story is developing.

Now the only way an author can successfully negotiate this troublesome hurdle is to provide the reader with a group of diverse, well-realised, and eminently interesting protagonists who will serve to engage emotion; thus distracting attention away from a backdrop that often borders upon the inane, and occasionally: the insane.

Over the last few years, only a handful of SF writers have managed to get to grips with this problem; the substantial remainder failing because they forgot the 'Golden Rule': never skimp on your characters.

Unfortunately, Alastair Reynolds does *exactly that* with Revelation Space, which is a pity really because after the reading the first few, well-written, chapters, it would seem more difficult to mess the story up than it would to do it right.

Problem number one  length: this book is too long, and the reason why it is too long is that there are simply too many disposable characters running around serving no purpose other than to (very) occasionally rebound the plot. Triumvir Hegazi, Boris Nagorny, Sudjic, Kjarval, Girardeau and Sluka could have quite easily been written out the story (transferring their roles to the primary characters) without much difficulty. This would have had the effect of tightening the convoluted narrative, thus reducing the book's length by 150 pages (never a bad thing with these hefty tomes). Special mention must go to the painfully 'realised' Pascale (a major character), whose fleeting arrivals generally herald lengthy bursts of sloppy exposition and very little else.

Problem number two  characterisation: attempting to find a fully-realised, three-dimensional character in this book is like panning for gold in your own bathtub  don't bother.

Problem number three - dialogue: very rarely does the dialogue contained within RS haul itself above 'adequate' and into 'good'. If you have an aversion from lines such as, 'You're not going to like this', or 'You're *really* not going to like this', or '..something very bad is about to happen' then you are not going to like this book. If you have an aversion from lines such as these being spouted every third paragraph, then  you're *really* not going to like this book.

Problem number four  unacceptable stupidity: considering that we are asked to believe that the book's major players are skull-bustingly intelligent (at least three are leading scientists), they do appear to spend much of their time being anything but. Put yourself in the position of the (supposedly) ultra-suspicious Sajaki for a moment: would you allow the duplicitous Volyova to hold free reign over the ship whilst you were in reefersleep - a ship that features nigh-on infinite firepower? Personally I wouldn't trust Volyova with a soggy box of matches. There are endless other examples of head-scratching peculiarity I could quote  but I limit myself to 1000 word reviews.

Problem number five - incongruence: at several points in the book the protagonists act out of character, or appear to have been replaced by an inverse doppelganger (and no, we are not talking about those characters who have visited the 'Pattern Jugglers'). Consider Volyova: early on she is painted as highly intelligent, yet cruel and sadistic woman. What's more  the latter traits seem to be fairly well ingrained (Sylveste comments that Volyova had been 'a bitch' years previously). Now, examine the very same character at the finish of the story: almost unrecognisable and therefore infinitely less interesting in my opinion.

Now I concede that a couple of the above problems could be considered 'nitpicks' by many; after all, we are talking about 'space opera', a field that generally doesn't hold up well to close scrutiny, even when written by the best of authors. However there are simply *too many* nitpicks here to ignore, and once you aggregate them all together Revelation Space would appear to be hopelessly compromised.

This is, in my opinion, a terrible shame as Reynolds succinctly demonstrates on numerous occasions in this text that he is extremely adept at working with all the other, necessary tropes of space opera. Strange and imaginative landscapes, energetic combat set-pieces, inscrutable alien life forms (just how they should be); all these essential aspects seem to flow from the author's mind quite freely.

Alas, too often this noteworthy background work goes to waste as just when you are starting to 'believe', one of Reynolds's annoying proto-characters clunks onto the page, opens its mouth and deposits you back into reality with a head-splitting thump!

Submitted by Rodney Powell 
(Aug 02, 2001)

I just got done reading in my humble opinion the best sf novel of the year,Revelation Space. Reynolds has established himself with this grand and mostly chilling space opera set in the 26th century.He has the ability to tell diverse storylines and have them come together in cohensive and gripping fashion.Dan
Sylveste, a obsessive scientist on the colony world of Resurgam seeks to find the answers for why the
planet's original inhabitants,the Amarantins a avian race was wiped out eons ago. But Sylveste doesn't
know it but he and his simulation of his dead, father calvin are being seek by cyborg crew of starship
Nostalgia for Infinity to cure their captain who suffers from nanotech plague.Sylveste isn't aware that
one of the crew,a lady assassin, Khouri is contracted to kill him!The tension of this novel is so palpable
you can almost cut it with the knife.Reynolds also knows his plot twists, as he illustrates that in the
future technology changes but human nature doesn't as he gives scenes of machivellian maneuvers
among the crew of Nostlagia.Characters in this epic novel also are not what they appear to be like the
brave and sometimes ruthless Volyoya who seeks to save her captain from the nanotech plague.
Khouri the assassin who must kill Sylveste in order to be reunited with her husband.The deadly Sajaki
who agendas on the ship no one knows.Reynolds how to create memorable worlds and aliens like
enigmatic intelligence called the Shroud and how those who enters it are changed. The atmosphere of
the creepy ship, Nostlagia very memorable as the crew battle each other and deadly stowaway called
Sun Stealer.Reynolds also gives a answer why there are few intelligent civilizations found in the
universe.the reason will terrify you!The author's ability in universe-building puts him in the same league
as David Brin, Greg Bear, and frank Herbert as he tells a epic saga that transcences space and billions
of years in the history of the universe.Reynolds also knows how tell a story with harsh science in a way
that doesn't confuse the reader or take away from the human element of story.Reynolds knows how
write action sequences as he describes in relish as the ship battles the defenses of the machine
planet,Cerberus and terrifying escape from the menace of the Sun Stealer.This was the best space
opera I've read since Peter Hamilton's Reality Dysfunction series and bodes well for Reynolds future
in the genre!

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