Revelation Space, by Alastair Reynolds (2000)
Score: Quite good, promising start.
There’s something you must know about Revelation Space, which made me want to read it: it’s a space opera, with no faster-than-light travel or wormholes. Just good old travelling at relativistic speeds. ‘But that must be boring as fuck’, you might be thinking. Well, it’s not.
The story follows Dan Sylveste, who is in charge of an archaeological dig on planet Resurgam, investigating what might have wiped out the last intelligent species that lived there, the Amarantin. At the same time, former soldier turned assassin Ana Khouri is recruited for a special kind of assassination, and the crew of the Nostalgia for Infinity, an old, decaying lighthugger, is looking for Sylveste because they need a favour, and they’re not going to ask for it nicely.
It’s quite hard science fiction and you can tell that Reynolds is actually an astrophysicist, but not so hard that he doesn’t take some justified artistic licenses. These are the perks of living with a neurophysicist, not that I could have noticed on my own. In fact I got quite lost in the technobabble near the end and my brain just overwrote “a wizard did it” on the whole thing. The unfurling of the whole thing is quite clever, although it gets to funny extremes when the characters keep telling each other the reveal but then the chapter ends abruptly and you’re there like ‘gee, I want in on the secret too!’ Also there is a certain character whose continuously dodging death gets ridiculous, but overall the writing is quite clever.
The characters are quite well written, I especially liked the Volyova/Khouri duo but found Sylveste a bit dull. Who said there are no complex and three-dimensional women in sci-fi?
As for the tone and style, it’s much more thorough, detailed and researched than A fire upon the deep and Hyperion, but Hyperion was maybe a bit more colourful. I don’t consider A fire upon the deep a contender because even though the Tines were very well designed, the rest of the universe felt quite underdeveloped. As for Hyperion, it was more colourful, but at the same time much more juvenile, excessive and disjointed at times. Simmons’ Liberal Arts major science was quite painful at times and the reveal was disappointing in comparison with the development, which just doesn’t happen with Revelation Space. Revelation Space is much more sober and mature as a space opera, has fewer characters and events, but the universe timeline is much more solid and detailed.
I’m going to start with the next book in the series right away, which is something I rarely do. Give it a chance, if you like space opera you’re going to like this.