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(left image: space art by A. Sokolov, Russia, 1970s)

Alastair Reynolds
"Revelation Space" (nv)

(Revelation Space series: 1)
© 2000, Gollancz / Ace
--shortlist : 2001 Clarke
--first novel : 2001 Locus Award /2
--sf novel : 2001 Locus Award /22
--novel : 2001 British SF Award

--/ FIRST place sf series
--/ second place space sf novel
DRB top lists
--/ adventure award
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award
--/ awesome scale

The vistas here are wide and gorgeous, the ending is pure joy, the canvas is colorful and satisfying. This novel starts in intriguing, if somewhat slow-paced way, showing us an archaeological dig on the other planet - but once we learn what kind of immensity this particular archaeological dig uncovers, the action picks up speed and the marvelous adventure gets underway. Various planetary environments are introduced and a weirdly twisted space-faring cyber-culture is described, getting a different treatment from Bruce Sterling's similar "Schismatrix" series. Lack of the hyperdrive - instantaneous FTL travel - in "Revelation Space" universe makes for a truly mind-boggling contemplation of stellar distances and unforgiving time spans, and it also introduces certain harshness in how the characters would live and function... faced with huge gaps of traveling through the void. Thus, the full flavor of "Generation Ship" epics from classic 1940s science fiction stories can be felt once again (this time mixed with edgy cyberpunk philosophies). In a word: this novel is a trip.

And it makes sense, too, when you combine it with imaginary sensory experiences. One can almost see oneself boarding a colossal and beautiful spaceship, armed to the brim with deadly weapons (capable of destroying whole star systems), battling the ghosts, mysteries and conspiracies along the way and arriving at the weirdest destination possible (the novel does end with a bang, I'm not going to spoil it for you). This is a grand space adventure that will stay with you for years, an ice-cold thrilling vehicle... And yet, this is my only complaint: that the novel feels cold to the heart like a surgical instrument, devoid of any particular warmth. One might argue that the detached tone of the narrative perfectly fits the immensity of space and the life/death decisions that characters will face there. Think of it as an epic story machine, covered in chrome, with tangled spikes of brooding menace sticking out here and there - launched upon a grand voyage with not much thought given to side sentiments (though you'd wish it lasted longer than the 500 pages alotted to it).

There are plenty of other influences here: certainly Iain M. Banks, William Gibson, even early Heinlein (seen in the epic sweep of its story) - and also a striking similarity to Larry Niven's stories in its mind-bending finale. Yes, it could have been paced more engagingly, with fewer chunks of exposition, but the reader knows he is in competent hands: Alastair Reynolds is capable of delivering hard science and plot twists with equal flamboyance.

As a side note, I find it hard to forget the mental image of a vast weapons bay inside the Ultra's spaceship (which comes complete with a ghost captain, by the way), where the dread star-destroying guns darkly loom and sleep... waiting for a senseless command to wake them. You can tell, this is the stuff the best classic space operas are made of, stuff that never gets out-of-date. Awe-inspiring.
(review by Avi Abrams)


(original unknown)

Alastair Reynolds
"Great Wall of Mars"

(Revelation Space series)
(prequel to "Glacial")
© 2000, Spectrum SF #1
--novella : 2001 Locus Award /14
--/ fourth place space sf novella
--/ adventure award
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award

This is something very epic, as though written by Robert A. Heinlein in his Golden Period, but with a new gleam and shine; plus it has a huge dose of Bruce Sterling's Shaper/Mechanist ideas thrown into it for good measure.

Exciting action and thrilling visuals are a given, as we have come to expect from Alastair Reynolds. This novella is the starting point for the whole "Revelation Space" series, so its scale is still pretty small, confined only to the Solar System, but the initial conflict between Conjoiners/Demarchists (or are they Shapers/Mechanists ??) is already revealed in a very concise manner, introducing all the key characters (Clavain, Galiana, Remontoire...) - and starting them on a four-novel, thousand-page odyssey. Isn't it a great feeling, when you can gaze on a whole bookshelf of "Revelation Space" novels and know that even if you spend your whole time reading Reynolds, there is always going to be some more stuff to read?

The embattled walled City of Mars also reminded me of the Venusian City from Henry Kuttner's "Fury" series - with similar subdued militaristic drive and laconic writing. Good taste, good reading times - cheers, let's read some more!
(review by Avi Abrams)


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