Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

Oh yes, this is the good stuff. The best science fiction novel I've reviewed so far.

I wasn't overly impressed with his short story collection Galactic North, which was very hit and miss, but I did like it enough to give one of his novels a go. This is the first in the series, but works very well as a stand alone.

It's set in the aftermath of the Melding Plague, which is a big deal in the short stories as well. It affects nanotechnology, and there's no cure. It means many people with implants have either frozen themselves until scientists know how to kill it, or bomb about in containers called palanquins so they don't get infected. And cities, which are meant to grow organically, have withered and died. All very dark and gothic.

One of the three stories which come together concerns the plague - the captain of a spaceship is in stasis because of the infection, but the crew know someone who can help him. This person - Sylveste - is the leader of a planet where an alien race became extinct a million years ago. He's also their head archeologist and he's obsessed with finding out what happened to them. The third strand is an assassin sent by someone known only as the Mademoiselle to kill Sylveste.

It works on every level. The setting is well realised - I wrote in the last review about it being hard sf with relativity causing time dilation, no faster than light travel etc, but there are other great touches, like inches of slime on the floors of the spaceship, and acres of rotting vegetation because the UV lights in the biodomes have broken. The characters are interesting, unusual and believable if not always sympathetic. And the plotting's excellent. It builds quite slowly, coming to a great showdown in the middle, and the last half goes off in an unexpected and mindblowing direction. But nothing feels rushed, shoehorned-in or surplus to requirements. Fantastic.

I'm now embarking on 2666 by Roberto Bolano (Spanish squiggle on the n implied) which is pretty good, even though it's not actually set in the year 2666. As far as I know.


zungg said...

Coincidentally, I've just finished this book in between sections of 2666. I had an inkling you'd reviewed it. I think 2012 might be the year I discover SF. Thought Revelation Space was fucking great, especially the lighthugger with its rats and voids and putrid recesses. For me the ship was the standout character. Also loved the ever-present entoptics. Now back to 2666 which isn't giving me the same joy that Savage Detectives did.

Have you read Chasm City, and would you say it's worth reading before Redemption Ark?

Joe said...

I loved it too - in my top five for last year. I read redemption ark without going through chasm city, and I certainly wasn't lost (as I would be in a Peter f Hamilton) but I think maybe will read it before doing absolution gap. It introduces a major character in the later books, it introduces an important technological advance, and I think there'll be more about the mademoiselle. The prefect is also set on chasm city but a couple of centuries before, and galactic north (also on the blog) I should have read after getting into the whole world a

2066 I gave up on. I enjoyed the first section with theo e triangle, but i can't even remember what happened after that. Not much, and slowly I suspect. Savage detectives I'll keep an eye out for.

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