Master of Dev

Book Review: Revelation Space


Alongside starting this site, I’ve also decided I might as well start reviewing things I like. Lets begin with sci-fi book (there will be a LOT of these) from 2000, the first in the Revelation Space universe – conveniently named Revelation Space – by Alastair Reynolds. Personally, I hadn’t seen very much of this series and found the entire collection on offer on the Google Play book store after finishing a previous book. I read some reviews and a synopsis, and bought it there and then. This was a very good decision.

Revelation Space takes place in the 26th century, following three different characters who’s stories slowly converge near the finale. The story regularly jumps between these characters and their associated timelines, something that’s seen in the future stories as well. Alastair doesn’t hold back with his terminology, starting as is if you already assume major components of his story and only later explaining what certain things mean either through context or various scene hints. He very rarely goes into an explicit explanation of something, and this I like. I personally feel it makes the story feel more real, as if you’ve been catapulted into this time and just have to learn things through experience, although I can understand how people would dislike this way of writing, and the start of the book is heavy with this, getting easier as the story goes on.

To make the rest of the review make a bit more sense, I will add some backstory here. After expanding out into the universe, the human race split into a number of factions. The primary factions are:

  • The Conjoiners – Focused on mental augmentation and communication, as well as the advancement of the human mind. This faction created the lighthuggers, giant interstellar starships that could reach speeds in the the speed of light. Something caused them to suddenly stop producing the lighthuggers, and the remaining ships became extremely valuable to the scattered settlements of humanity for trade. Most lighthuggers were bought up by the next faction…
  • The Ultranauts (Or Ultras) – Transhuman spacefarers and traders who tend to favour obvious mechanical modifications to their body. They pride themselves on running lighthuggers, growing a new dreadlock for each session of reefersleep (Basically cryogenic stasis) which is of huge value for them.
  • The Demarchists – A faction that uses democratic anarchy – or Demarchy – to run themselves. While not pure human, for the sake of this book they could be considered the most ‘normal’, with primary character Sylveste being one of them. This faction isn’t referred to much in this story, but becomes a part of the story later on.

The first story strand follows an archaeologist by the name of Dan Sylveste, living on a newly colonised desert planet called Resurgam where he’s investigating the mysterious disappearance of the previous alien inhabitants of the planet called the Amarantin. He discovers that they appear to have been destroyed by their sun around a million years ago – going against the logic of normal stellar physics – as well as the fact that they may have become technologically sophisticated. These discoveries slowly happen as Resurgam goes through multiple political upheavals and rebellions, something that pretty much becomes a staple of Resurgam.

The second strand follows Ana Khouri, an ex soldier from the planet of Sky’s Edge who was injured and accidentally transported to Yellowstone, a planet in another star system, due to a clerical error. Since her husband has apparently remained on Sky’s Edge, as well as the fact that interstellar travel is still slower than light, she decides to use her soldiering skills to become an assassin on the planet of Yellowstone. To add to this, Chasm City – the largest settlement on Yellowstone – was one of the greatest cities in all of human space before an attack by ‘The Melding Plague’, a nanotechnological virus that corrupted all sophisticated technology – including the self modifying buildings – into twisted and deformed shapes. The city is now semi-lawless, with the majority of people living in The Mulch on the ground, while the rich live in The Canopy at the tops of the corrupt buildings. The rich, being the only people in the city who can remain immortal, run a sort of death game where they are hunted and can feel the fear of death. Khouri is one of these ‘legal’ assassins, and the story follows one of her hunts and her later reassignment by the mysterious Mademoiselle who tasks her with assassinating Sylveste.

The third strand follows Ilia Volyova aboard the Nostalgia for Infinity, a lighthugger (a semi-rare ship used for interstellar travel) run by a skeleton crew of Ultras – a faction of humanity who pride themselves on cybernetic augmentation and being the primary faction for interstellar trade. This crew also want to find Sylveste and to get him to help cure their captain – a man infected by the Melding Plague and who is slowly – for the lack of a better word – consuming the ship through the corruption of the plague, slowed only by being placed in cryogenic stasis. The crew have just entered the Yellowstone system looking for someone to run the armoury after the previous user died under mysterious circumstances. Once they’ve found a new crew-mate, their plan is to travel to Resurgam to capture Sylveste.

The story then follows the plot of Khouri infiltrating the Ultras, infighting between the Ultras, and group’s realisation that the Amaratin were destroyed by an intelligent alien race called the Inhibitors. I don’t want to spoil, but there’s a lot here and it sets up the stories and the universe that continues into the next four books (as of writing), as well a wide number of short stories. Aside from the blunt start, I just love this story: the world[s] Alastair has created, the plot lines he creates (even without you realising) and the very varied and unique characters that are both protagonists and side characters. The universe he has made feels very real, and while the overarching theme is pretty much a sci-fi trope – cosmic entity that destroys life, resolving the Fermi paradox – it’s done in an interesting and unique way that I love. Overall, great book (and series) that I definitely suggest you read, even if you’re not fully interested in sci-fi.

Overall rating: 5/5