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Redemption Ark
Alastair Reynolds
Gollancz, 567 pages

Redemption Ark
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 before his post-doctoral work at Utrecht University. At present he works at ESA as a contractor.

Alastair Reynolds Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Revelation Space
SF Site Review: Chasm City
SF Site Review: Revelation Space

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

When last we saw our intrepid heroes, the search for the cause of the extinction of the ancient race of the Amarantin had somehow or another (but still within the realm of conjectural physics) transformed archeologist Dan Sylveste and his wife Pascale into some sort of stellar consciousness. Meanwhile, his two unwilling accomplices are dealing with their own plights -- the hired assassin Khouri seeks to return to "normal" existence while purported war criminal and weapons expert Ilia Volyova is warming up her ship's preserved Captain, whose consciousness is merging with onboard AI systems...

Redemption Ark picks up from the debut novel of Alastair Reynolds, Revelation Space, after a side trip in Chasm City, which is set in the same milieu, but is not part of a strict sequence. While Redemption Ark is a direct sequel to Revelation Space, and there are guest appearances from Chasm City, it's not necessary to have read either of the previous books, though there are a couple of minor references that might not be clear to the uninitiated. If you had to pick one novel out of the lot to read, this would be the one. Reynolds has sometimes been accused of writing a great 400 page novel but taking 600 pages to do it. Redemption Ark still clocks in at 567 pages, and considering that this Gollancz edition is in a larger format than the previous novels, may very well have a higher word count, but, nonetheless, is a page turner. And once you read Redemption Ark, you'll probably want to collect them all.

This time around, replacing Sylveste in the anti-hero role is Nevil Clavain, who strikes me as a much more appealing character. Also of more interest this time out are the depictions of Khouri and Volyova. Added to the cast is Antoinette Bax, a private pilot carrying on her father's just barely legal interplanetary trading activities with her loyal sidekick Xavier Lui. By chance of circumstance, the pair get caught up in Clavain's defection from the Conjoiners, mentally augmented humans with a collective hive mind, in a quest to repossess a collection of doomsday weapons controlled by Volyova and her ship, which has metabolically fused with the consciousness of its late Captain. Meanwhile, Skade, the ostensible baddie, is pursuing her own agenda to retrieve the doomsday weapons and eliminate Clavain.

What's triggering all this is the disturbing discovery of an answer to the Fermi Paradox -- the reason that humanity has never encountered other intelligent life forms is because something out there destroys it at the point when they approach Faster than Light (FTL) interstellar transport. This force is a machine collective called The Inhibitors, acting on the orders of its creators from a long ago past to prune nascent intelligence in the universe by destroying stars and their surrounding worlds. (Which leads to perhaps the funniest line in the book, albeit which Reynolds presumably didn't write, the cover blurb that, "The Inhibitors have returned. Don't make any long-term plans.") The three factions -- Clavain, Khouri and Volvyana, Skade -- believe in different responses to this threat. Various complications ensue.

This is, of course, space opera, but space opera in which principles of theoretical physics must still be honored, though thankfully the explanations are not as distracting as they were in Revelation Space. Reynolds is an astrophysicist, and I suppose there are folks who not only care about such explanations, but actually understand them. They can probably appreciate a novel that portrays how FTL combat might actually work in ways that I cannot.

But, it's the story that counts, and with a cliffhanger at the end of almost every chapter, Reynolds demonstrates mastery of the form while also managing to combine certain noirish elements, such as making Volyova a chain smoker and an investigator with dual loyalties whose office contains filing cabinets overstuffed with paper documents that manage to co-exist with advanced technologies such as interstellar spacecraft, life prolongation, and machine-augmented humans. Arguably, at times the clichés of these conventions can be annoying -- the genetically enhanced hybrid pig Scorpio who refers to people as "pal" whose hateful view of humans undergoes a change of heart, as well as characters who keep rising from the dead, for example. There's also a burgeoning love relationship that is handled awkwardly.

But these are quibbles. If you like hard SF, even if you have know no idea what the hell Stephen Hawking is talking about half the time, with fast-paced action and hard-boiled characters driven by necessity to take steps they'd rather not, you're in for a great ride.

And, yes, even when the ride is over, there are more than enough loose ends left untied and questions unanswered, that another installment of the saga appears imminent. Stay tuned.

Copyright © 2002 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.

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