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Revelation Space
Alastair Reynolds
Victor Gollancz, 475 pages

Revelation Space
Alastair Reynolds
Alastair Reynolds was born in 1966 in Barry, South Wales. He spent his early years in Cornwall, moved back to Wales and on to university in Newcastle doing Physics and Astronomy. Then it was on to a PhD in St Andrews, Scotland. In 1991, he moved to Holland, where he met his partner Josette, and worked as ESA Research Fellow then did his post-doctoral work at Utrecht University. At present he works at ESA as contractor.

Alastair Reynolds Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

Well, here we go again. Mile-long spaceships, huge alien artifacts, millennia-old secrets, and strange intelligences fill the pages in Alastair Reynolds' first novel, Revelation Space. This is science fiction on the large, cosmological scale, and Reynolds does not lack in big ideas. What he doesn't have yet is the skill necessary to turn those ideas into a really good novel. There are spectacular moments along the way, but in the end Revelation Space doesn't quite live up to its own ambitions.

The story centres on Dan Sylveste, an archaeologist studying the remains of an extinct, bird-like alien race. His past is tied to the crew of the Infinity, who need information stored in Sylveste's head. Events lead to a large, heavily defended artifact orbiting around a neutron star, which seems to hold all the answers. Along the way there are kidnappings, political revolutions, betrayals, and intrigue.

For a space opera, Revelation Space is a curiously dark book. The characters especially are a brooding, morose lot. While, by the end, you gain sympathy for their plight, it's hard to like any of them as individuals. The theme of why the universe is so seemingly devoid of intelligent civilizations contributes to the overall grimness. This distracts from the wonder of Reynolds' ideas, which include a planet with intelligent oceans and a brand-new use for a neutron star.

The biggest problem with Revelation Space as a science fiction novel, though, is that it fails to create a world larger than itself. For a book whose plot covers many light-years and invokes a million year history, the setting of Revelation Space feels strangely confined. We never learn much beyond what the characters need to know, and so there is little feeling that there is a larger world in Revelation Space than the places the characters inhabit. The result is that although many of the ideas in Revelation Space are awe-inspiring, the book never gives us the feeling that we are discovering a whole new world, the way that great science fiction novels like Dune, Neuromancer, or A Fire Upon the Deep do.

Which is not to say that Revelation Space isn't worth reading. Alastair Reynolds is a working astrophysicist, and his ideas are cutting-edge and convincingly rendered. The characters may not be the nicest people, but they are interesting, and it's to Reynolds' credit that they are not stock space opera type characters. The pieces of information we learn about the universe of Revelation Space show that Reynolds' does have a larger vision for his work; he just needs to express it better. Revelation Space is, after all, a first novel and I have no doubt that in later books Alastair Reynolds' writing and technique will grow to match the scope of his imagination.

Copyright © 2000 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson reads and lives to write about it in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.

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