Review: Redemption Ark
I’ve wondered for quite some time what a sophomore novel from Alastair Reynolds would read like. Seems like I’ve been a fan of his stuff for just about forever now. Coming back to this author and reading first, Revelation Space (his debut), and then this one, has been an effort that was completely worthwhile. Then, as I’m preparing for this review, I come to find out that this book is in fact not his sophomore novel, but the third novel that he published. Color me surprised. I figured with a debut novel being published in 2000 and the second in the series weighing in at over 550 pages and being published in 2002, that it was obviously his sophomore novel. So much for assumptions. Still, this is the second book in the main sequence dealing with the Inhibitors, and that was the book I went looking for this time around. Will have to go back and read Chasm City (another whopper of a book that was published in 2001 and set in the Revelation Space universe) sometime later. Until then.
REDEMPTION ARK (Amazon) is a direct continuation of the story told in Revelation Space that deals mainly with the discovery of an ancient species of machine intelligence that has long had the goal to keep any other beings from progressing too far along the path of progress. They’ve accomplished this by watching for a particular level of technological advance, and then becoming active and annihilating the offending source of life. I was absolutely agog at how great the first novel in this series was, and couldn’t wait to get into this one.
Relatively, there are quite a few characters that have POV time in this book. Although, the large majority of the story is told through the eyes of three main characters:
Antoinette Bax is a simple girl living a simple life on Yellowstone when her father dies. His only wish prior to dying was that he be buried within the massive gravity well of a gas giant named Tangerine Dream. She attempts to do that, but fails, due to the fact that her spaceship isn’t quite up to the task she’s set it of flying into the atmosphere of the planet. This is complicated by the fact that the gas giant is in a region of space that is prohibited by a war between the Conjoiners and Demarchists. By sheer luck, a Conjoiner ship is nearby, and the owner of the ship, Nevil Clavain, pulls her out of certain doom and, surprisingly, releases her. That isn’t the last time she meets this particular Conjoiner, however.
Nevil Clavain is a Conjoiner that is searching for answers. The founder of the Conjoiners, Galiana, disappeared over a decade ago and he wants to know what happened to her. Additionally, another of the conjoiners, Felka, might be his daughter, and he’s been searching for clues as to whether or not this might be true. Several other Conjoiners convince Clavain to join the upper leadership of their people with the promise of hidden truths. When he accepts, he’s told about the discovery of the Inhibitors and asked to join a mission to recover a set of doomsday weapons (the Cache Weapons from the first book in the series) the Conjoiners lost some time ago but recently became aware of again. Their hope is that they’ll be able to use these weapons as a protection against the Inhibitors as the Conjoiners attempt to flee beyond the machine intelligence’s reach. Running away and leaving humanity to die doesn’t exactly sit well with Clavain though, and that sparks several decisions in him that find him meeting Antoinette Bax and several other less savory characters along the way.
Thorn is a rebel on the planet of Resurgam. Early in the story (which is set about 50 years after the events just mentioned), he meets with two characters that are finally familiar to us: Triumvir Ilia Volyova and Anna Khouri. He’s been trying to raise the people in rebellion against the government and have them leave the planet. After very unignorable events begin to take place involving the non-planet discovered at the end of the first book of the series. Volyova and Khouri enlist the help of Thorn to do exactly what he wants to do, but on a much larger scale, as they are aware of the impending threat by the Inhibitors.
I mean, egad. I didn’t even touch the large majority of the stuff that’s going on in this book. It’s absolutely mind boggling how detailed and complicated these books are. There’s so much going on, and yet the author has a way of making everything crystal clear while weaving the story of the individual characters throughout the maze. Life is complicated, yeah? Well, so are well-wrought books.
As is usual, these characters are spot on great. There was, however, one character that I just didn’t get: Thorn. He came across very cardboard and flat. So much of the story involving Resurgam was told from his perspective, and I think that the story suffered some because of it. On balance, the stories told from Antoinette and Clavain were brilliant. There are several other characters that we get time from as well, and each of these was handled well. There’s a lot of time from Skade, another Conjoiner, that is heading up the mission to retrieve the weapons. We get some time from Felka as well. Despite all of these disparate characters, I don’t think the story ever suffered from it. There is a cohesive story being told in these two separate parts of the galaxy, and although I think it could have benefitted from being a little more focused and told from fewer perspectives, it was still a great story.
As the Inhibitor response comes online, several sources take note and construct their response. An awe-inspiring, well-drawn, and ultimately moving story.
This is also absolutely a hard science fiction story. There were a couple of times when my eyes started to glaze over a little bit, with the large swathes of science that are covered. And yet it was still ultimately interesting and engaging in the ways that the several characters were able to interact with all of it. It’s also a very large story. When the time scales cover decades of travel, you can’t help but begin to feel just how big the universe actually is, and that is so much fun to experience.
This is another great example of why Alastair Reynolds is one of my favorite authors. He just doesn’t forget that stories should be told through the eyes of the characters, and it is those characters that are the most important aspect of the story. It is their experiences, their history, and ultimately their choices that will shape everything that happens along the way.
Don’t miss out on this series. Yes, it’s been around for a while now. It is still, however, and will continue to be, a great piece of excellent Science Fiction that should be celebrated as such.
- Recommended Age: 15+
- Language: Infrequently strong. More in the second half of the story.
- Violence: Torture is referenced and a looming threat of violence against a planet
- Sex: Several brief references