Review: Revelation Space

Posted: May 16, 2019 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: Alastair Reynolds, Hard SF, Science Fiction

Alastair Reynolds has been in my top five favorite authors essentially since the first novel of his that I ever read. Want to say that was House of Suns (Amazon), back before I ever started writing for EBR. He handles the mix of science and character better than just about any other science fiction author that I’ve read to date. Thus, this series has been on my radar and in my TBR pile for what is now way too much time. Because this book is fantastic. Absolutely mind-smashingly fantastic, in point of fact. It’s sort of warping my brain a little that this was the guy’s debut novel. So yeah, this book has been around for a while, and I just couldn’t put off reading it any longer. If you haven’t read it yet… well you shouldn’t put off reading it any longer either. Want to be convinced? Here we go.

REVELATION SPACE (Amazon) is the first book in the Revelation Space trilogy (or possibly The Inhibitors Trilogy, which resides within the Revelation Space Universe — the internet is somewhat at odds with itself on this matter) and has more science fiction goodness in the first 20% of the book than most other series have in their entirety. I’d already read both books in the PREFECT DREYFUS EMERGENCY SERIES (EBR Archive), and loved them both, so when I figured out that this series resided in the same universe as that one, it was like coming home to an old friend.

The story is told from three disparate points of view that gradually find their way into one another’s space.

Dan Sylveste is an archaeologist digging on the far-flung planet of Resurgam where, nearly a million years ago, a race known as the Amarantin were summarily wiped out by their sun. Near the opening pages he finds a long-buried obelisk that holds clues about this extinct race and their state of technological development that have been hitherto undiscovered. But the level of political unrest on the planet ends up playing a larger role in this discovery than he desires.

Ilia Volyova is a member of a sparse crew of Ultras, humans that have intermixed their flesh with technology and science to an alarming degree, that find themselves in need of another crew member after one of theirs dies rather… untimely. They’re on their way to find Dan Sylveste, whose father was the leader of The Eighty, a group of individuals that sought to transition to immortality through technological crossover but ultimately failed. The Ultras believe that Dan can help them to save their captain, who has contracted a viral plague that is infiltrating the ship and the comatose captain, intermingling his flesh and its systems to a degree that is mortally dangerous and alarming even to the Ultras.

Ana Khouri is a paid assassin, hired by her own victims, to fulfill a contract whose outcome would otherwise be a crime. She is contracted somewhat unwillingly by a mysterious woman known only as Mademoiselle to make her way to the planet of Resurgum, find Dan Sylveste, and immediately execute him.

It’s obvious from the get-go that this story will be epic in size. There are aspects of science fiction that insist that they should always be epic, but stories don’t always bear out that size. In this case though, the story does. From the millennial time scales to travel across the galaxy to the massive size of the Ultra spaceship, Nostalgia for Infinity, it seems that everything is large and epic in scope. And yet the character focus is, for the most part, tight and laser-focused as it should be. From Ana Khouri’s desire to be with her lost husband to the mistrust that each of the Ultras seem to hold for one another to the broken relationship between Dan Sylveste and the beta-level simulation of his father, Calvin.

If there is anything that drives this story from the very beginning to the frighteningly awesome conclusion, it is the disparate motivations of every single one of the characters found within the narrative. Secondary characters come to play very important roles in the fallout of the storylines of these three main characters as they close upon one another. Reynolds takes sufficient, if sometimes overly much, time relaying the various science that rules the universe. His knowledge and understanding of that information though and the way that he weaves those aspects into his stories, made me remember just how much I love science and science fiction as well.

There were relatively small pieces of this novel that bothered me. Those deep dives into the science of things tended toward the infodump, but usually about the time that I started wondering when the story was about to pick up again, it did. Where I wouldn’t much be able to stomach the analogous method of relaying information in a fantasy novel, here it didn’t bother me as much. Perhaps that was my scientific background though. There’s a point in the story also where Sylveste’s timeline jumps several years. This was a bit jarring for me at best, but I was able to pick up pretty quickly afterward, as the Ultra ship approached the planet of Resurgum and the conflict and action picked up.

By-and-large this was a read where I found the pages just melting away beneath my fingertips. I didn’t want it to stop. I never got tired of it. There is mystery upon mystery layered here, and as Reynolds slowly unraveled all of the various layers of the story and galactic history of these people, the tale only became more compelling to me.

REVELATION SPACE is a fantastic science fiction novel where the galaxy is a very large, old place and everyone in within it in has their own motivations.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Alastair Reynolds is a magnificent science fiction author. Which is exactly the reason why he’s one of my favorites. He just knows how to do things well. He gets the science and he gets the characters, and that is a pretty fine place indeed to find ones self. The story is long, as it should be, but it is well-crafted and engaging and has an ending that’ll leave you wondering just what amount of terror these three might have inadvertently awoken in their attempts to satisfy the longings of their own character.

Don’t miss this one, people. Not for the world. Not for the whole universe. Happy reading.

  • Recommended Age: 16+, mostly for conceptual understanding and attention span
  • Language: Strong, but there isn't a whole lot of it
  • Violence: Most of the violence is implicit, but it does get pretty bloody at times
  • Sex: One low-detail scene and a few references to a married couple

Anyone out there still lovin on all of the great speculative media we’re getting out of Netflix these days? Well, how about a little more? Alastair Reynolds recently announced that two of his stories, “Beyond the Aquila Rift” and “Zima Blue” have been adapted for television in the Netflix series “Love, Death & Robots”. Even better… he thinks they did a great job of it. šŸ™‚


  • Gerry Jackson says:

    I’ve literally just finished the audio book version, and came looking for other’s views to confirm the awesomeness of this story… and it’s author. You don’t disappoint.

    There’s nothing in your review I disagree with. It pretty much mirrors my thoughts and conclusions.

    The only thing I’d like to add, is that John Lee’s narration is as epic as the story. If I have a complaint, it’s that, especially in the early stages of the book, when it jumps time and story lines frequently, he doesn’t pause for breath to give an indication that the scene and focus is changing, which was a bit confusing… especially if my mind had drifted off. Easy to do if you’re listening to a story rather than reading it.

    Thanks for confirming the awesomeness of what I’ve just experienced

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