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Revelation Space #1

Revelation Space

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Nine hundred thousand years ago, something annihilated the Amarantin civilization just as it was on the verge of discovering space flight. Now one scientist, Dan Sylveste, will stop at nothing to solve the Amarantin riddle before ancient history repeats itself. With no other resources at his disposal, Sylveste forges a dangerous alliance with the cyborg crew of the starship Nostalgia for Infinity. But as he closes in on the secret, a killer closes in on him. Because the Amarantin were destroyed for a reason — and if that reason is uncovered, the universe—and reality itself — could be irrecoverably altered….

585 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published March 1, 2000

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About the author

Alastair Reynolds

266 books7,702 followers
I'm Al, I used to be a space scientist, and now I'm a writer, although for a time the two careers ran in parallel. I started off publishing short stories in the British SF magazine Interzone in the early 90s, then eventually branched into novels. I write about a novel a year and try to write a few short stories as well. Some of my books and stories are set in a consistent future named after Revelation Space, the first novel, but I've done a lot of other things as well and I like to keep things fresh between books.

I was born in Wales, but raised in Cornwall, and then spent time in the north of England and Scotland. I moved to the Netherlands to continue my science career and stayed there for a very long time, before eventually returning to Wales.

In my spare time I am a very keen runner, and I also enjoying hill-walking, birdwatching, horse-riding, guitar and model-making. I also dabble with paints now and then. I met my wife in the Netherlands through a mutual interest in climbing and we married back in Wales. We live surrounded by hills, woods and wildlife, and not too much excitement.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,660 reviews
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,634 reviews5,007 followers
September 7, 2011
i suppose you could call Alastair Reynolds the Bad Twin of Peter Hamilton. both write space operas that come complete with mind-boggling concepts, galaxy-spanning adventures, bizarre aliens, space politics, love stories, and eons-old mysteries. but Hamilton writes about a future that despite having its ups, downs, and various inequities, is mainly Bright & Shiny, full of possibility. on the other hand, Reynolds' interests arise from the basic idea that the universe is a cold, scary place, full of dead things and barely-understood terrors. Hamilton's characters run the gamut of loveable to outright villainous; Reynolds prefers to write mainly about self-absorbed killers and assholes. one writes about factions of humanity trying to come together to fight off threats; the other depicts humans turning on each other and how things fall apart. so i guess it depends on your perspective: do you want your space opera glass to be half-full or half-empty?

overall, i think this is a pretty good first novel. it is certainly an elephantine one; fortunately, the size didn't seem unecessary and i was aborbed by the ideas and narrative from beginning to end. Reynolds' background as a scientist is evident in spades, and i'm happy to report that my right-brained self didn't suffer at all when reading this - concepts were explained carefully and clearly, in a way that didn't make me feel particularly stupid and never felt didactic or condescending. characterization is certainly striking - if you are looking for characters that are charming or sympathetic or likeable, look away! you will not find that here. instead prepare to read about insanely arrogant scientists, vicious politicians, cold-blooded killers, and even more cold-blooded spaceship crews. it can get a bit oppresive at times.

there is an interesting theme that slowly rises up through the narrative: the obsessive-compulsive nature of humanity. this is depicted within a military mind-set that views all outsiders as potential threats and a scientific mind-set that views exploring even the most awful and potentially threatening of things as the only option. characters in this novel don't just live with their obsessions, they are defined by them. characters don't make decisions based on anything resembling empathy or humanism - they are compelled to continually repeat and expand upon their compulsions, no matter what the cost. it is certainly a dark perspective on the nature of mankind.

but that darkness, that oppressiveness, is really at the heart of this novel's appeal. the back cover quaintly describes this novel as "CyberGoth", which of course is a pretty stupid moniker... but it also makes some sense. imagine a gigantic spaceship crewed by five misanthropes, haunted by voices from outside of time, full of enslaved rats and unimaginably deadly weapons, captained by an unconscious individual whose plague symptoms include the transformation of all materials around him into a vaguely disgusting, tendril-y mess. imagine two planets: one whose decadent citizens while away the time playing assassination games and another whose berserk citizens seem to be engaging in relentlessly bloody revolution every couple years. imagine a culture where marriage includes a "wedding gun" that shoots dna of your spouse directly into your forehead. imagine a horrific version of the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, one where the unknowable enigma wants to kill you and all of your stupid little species. imagine Lovecraft in Space. there, now put that all together and you've imagined Revelation Space.
Profile Image for Mario the lone bookwolf.
769 reviews3,500 followers
April 11, 2021
Different entities, old powers, mind parasites (hopefully symbiotic), flesh metal hybridization, dangerous artifacts, 2 badass fighter femme fatales, ancient sentient superweapons, a short glimpse at Chasm City, and good old potential apocalypse in the hardest space opera out there in the endless and manifold dimensions of known, accessible to humans, Sci-Fi.

I am not sure who invented the idea of bio nano fusions by technology, viruses, xenoviruses, weaponized viruses, computer viruses, or good old magic, but how the idea of robots or humans using the technology or being assimilated by it is shown here in very detailed descriptions is mindblowing.

The factions are already in play, still not so relevant as in the following novels, but completely worth a look in specific wikis. Reynolds created a kind of Sci-Fi counterpart to hopeless dark fantasy worlds. I can´t mention much about the ways technologies and ways of living in space formed their culture, body, and ideology, because discovering the world and inhabitants is one of the greatest joys in Reynolds´ work and large sections of the books are dedicated to them.

One notices that Reynolds writing style is just at the beginning, there are more lengths, this and the second one are partly more of detective mystery stories than space operas, just with „Who are the evil aliens, what is that strange artifact for?“ premises instead of real, hard science fiction space opera with fractions, big wars, and alien invasions in the second, main plotline.

Reynolds is immensely sharp in his writing, a perfectionistic plotter, fine tuner, and planer that he is. Dialogues and plot twists are interlinked and combined like in a good action movie, McGuffins and Chekhovs everywhere, cleverly placed reminders, must have taken him a while to tune this trough.

The plot is clever, the finale one of the most epic moments in Sci-Fi, although it can get a bit confusing with the characters, their motivations, and who is why doing what. I don´t really care much about characters, Reynolds doesn´t too, which leads to this little problem of making their motivations credible to fit to the main plot that is driven by the other, meta plot forces.

In comparison, Reynolds is by far the hardest science fiction focused out of the Space opera trio that lead the genre for a while together with Banks and Hamilton before the new kids on the Sci-Fi block arrived and occupied their territory with much easier to access works. Although Hamilton may be the closest to the Expanse, Neal Asher, and others who are cool and chilled, Banks and Reynolds are just too heavy, not to ever mention Stephenson, even I am not sure if I should dare to reread his work and I am a total Sci-Fi nut.

However, if you are not into very detailed astronomy, astrophysics, and astronomy and find no joy in training your skimming and scanning techniques by searching the pearls in very long passages, this might be nothing for you. I love how the hard science I often don´t really understand is integrated into plot concepts and finding these intersections while enjoying the ride with different reading speeds gives me the perverse, strange, masochistic flow. But Reynolds is unique, no other author with a similar science background and a dark, grim, wasted future, cyberpunk, dystopian, misanthropic, hardboiled, badass setting, characters, and writing style I know out there.

Even for me, a Sci-Fioholic, this is something time intensive and difficult to read, because one has to invest the effort to be able to enjoy it. For the ones who are just lurking into Sci-Fi, it might be too much, but for the already a bit more experienced readers, elysium could be waiting.

Worthless, boring, personal anecdote that can easily be ignored to save time: Í´m at the moment (since late spring 2020) rereading the mentioned Banks, Reynolds, and Hamilton and it´s funny how I keep saying to myself that if I finish reading some more difficult Reynolds, I´ll reward myself with some lengthy, easygoing Hamilton or much more optimistic, but not so funny, except the Minds, Banks.

Tropes show how literature is conceptualized and created and which mixture of elements makes works and genres unique:
Profile Image for Kevin Kelsey.
400 reviews2,179 followers
April 21, 2017
The most elaborate resolution of the Fermi paradox that I've ever come across. This book is dense with huge concepts that are very difficult to wrap your mind around, and it makes you try over and over again.

Xenoarchaeology, transhumanism, artificial intelligence, stellar manipulation, black hole manipulation, quantum entanglement, quantum computing, quantum simulation, spacetime fissures, etc.

All of this plus one of the most complicated and satisfying mysteries in modern science fiction, unfolding in a fully realized universe complete with a billion years of history.

I need a fluffy, simple story after finishing this. I loved it, but my brain is toast for a while.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,854 reviews16.4k followers
March 6, 2019
I very much enjoyed this book, but more than that, I greatly respected the work that Reynolds did and was awestruck by his accomplishment.

This is a phenomenal book in many ways.

Reynolds, a Welsh PhD astronomer and member of the European Space Agency, has some Sheldon Cooper street cred right out of the gates and he delivers with some seriously high brow SF tooling that left this knuckle dragging reviewer scratching his pate and just being impressed.

“You don’t say, Dr. Reynolds?” aside – what did he say??

So this is about a future society where humans are out in the stars and a sizeable population of the erstwhile tree huggers are hugging a section of the galaxy around Yellowstone. This is the Revelation Space universe and it is about as detailed as a Bosch painting and almost as dark.

That’s, to me at least, the great draw of Reynolds’ narrative prose – NOT dystopian (gag me with a slide rule) but not Heinleinesque peachy neither. This describes our sweaty future selves living and dying in the future, but more or less human nature does not change and we are carrying on as always in our cynical and self-destructive ways.

And there are aliens.

Reynolds’ aliens are the Bradbury Martian types, with civilizations long gone and thoroughly misunderstood. Or are they?

With mysterious goings on that reminded me of Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama and Silverberg’s The Man in the Maze, this also had elements of horror that further complicated Reynolds’ already richly complex palette.

There are intertwined sub plots, downloaded consciousnesses, cyber plagues, cyborgs, sentient space ships, far future assassins, antimatter bombs, and enough Matrix like cyber stuff to make me retreat to the relative safety of 30s pulp.

Space opera is not really a sub-genre to which I am inclined and I my interest did wane some at the lengthy melodramatic discourses, but the ideas and the science behind it all were eye opening and mesmerizing.

This started the Revelation Space universe with other novels and short stories filling in the gaps and adding Cooperesque Bazingas aplenty.

Well done, Dr. Reynolds, well done.

Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews766 followers
June 3, 2021
This is a complete revamp of my Revelation Space review which I posted in 2011 when I was two years old or something. I have since read the three books in the Revelation Space Trilogy and several other novels set in the author’s “Revelation Space universe”, his very own MCU without the M or the C. The main reason I decided to reread this particular volume is that for the life of me I cannot remember what it is about. Even the reread did not jog my memory very much, I just remember certain scenes. Honestly, this reread feels like reading the book for the first time.

The plot of this book is very difficult to put in a nutshell, if you ask me what Revelation Space is about my immediate response would be “umm…. errr….”. The narrative focuses on three main characters Dan Sylveste, an archaeologist, Ilia Volyova, a transhuman (nothing to do with gender identity issues), and Ana Khouri, an assassin. Sylveste gets the ball rolling with his obsession with finding out who / what wiped out the entire Amarantin alien race. Meanwhile, Volyova is searching for Sylveste, to help her spaceship captain who is in a coma caused by a weird alien plague that only infects nanotechnology (these transhumans are stuffed to the gills with nanotech implants), and Khouri is hired by a mysterious woman who wants her to assassinate Sylveste. The three narrative strands gradually move closer until they eventually intersect for an epic climax that has some serious implications for the entire galaxy*.

I am generally an Alastair Reynolds fan, he has written some of the best sf I have ever read, but to be honest, I was not that keen on Revelation Space but I was intrigued enough to read more of his books which is fortunate because many of his subsequent books are much better than this one. Revelation Space contains many ingenious and exciting ideas but is somewhat let down by pacing issues; several chapters just drag with excessive expositions, especially during the first half of the book. Fortunately, Reynolds manages to stick the landing and conclude the narrative in an exciting manner while setting the scene for many spectacular (and better) volumes that followed. This series is sometimes described as hard science fiction which is somewhat inaccurate as hard sf strictly adheres to known science whereas some of the science Reynolds describes goes beyond current human knowledge. However, he uses his expertise as an astrophysicist to make everything seems at least plausible (hence no FTL drives); this explains his position at the forefront of the space opera subgenre. As for aliens they are mostly (but not entirely) absent from the book, I like how Reynolds tackles the Fermi paradox here. Prior to this reread I had no idea what the book’s title meant until one character actually says ”It was explained to me while I was in Revelation Space.”. Referring to a zone in space where some arcane knowledge is granted to those who enters, at a price. (Not one of the book's hard sf moments).

On the characterization side, Reynolds tries hard to paint his characters as complex, interesting, and vivid individuals. He does not quite succeed here but it is a valiant attempt and his later works show noticeable improvement in this aspect. There is also some Lovecraftian influence here, shadowy inscrutable alien activities and “Things Man Was Not Meant To Know”; this brooding atmosphere is nicely communicated by the artwork of the book’s cover.

If you are still awake at this point thank you for your time, in conclusion, I would recommend Revelation Space under the proviso that you are a patient reader and willing to wait for the payoff by the end of the book. If you are new to the work of Alastair Reynolds I heartily recommend reading House of Suns first, it is not part of the Revelation Space series but it is among his very best works.

(Review updated June 2021)

* Reynolds does not bandy about the word “universe” very much, just the galaxy is already too huge a canvass to work on.
Profile Image for Andrew Obrigewitsch.
929 reviews122 followers
May 19, 2017
Three surefire steps to ruin a good story:

1. Insert cardboard cutout characters that have the same personality that over analyzing everything they can.

2. Include massive 20 minute info dumps every 20 minutes.

3. Have your book narrated by Ben Stein the boring teacher in Ferris Bueller's Day Off and The Wonder Years.

This is literally how this book went:

(very conservative mildly interested voice) "By George, Sam, I think someone just vaporized Joe, with a trans-numatic ray gun. Why isn't that strange, I never much liked him anyway, always taking too long in the bathroom, and leaving the toilette seat up."

20 minute info dump about the technology behind the gun.

(very conservative mildly interested voice) "Sally wasn't Joe your husband of 20 years? And didn't he discover the Polaris phenomenon, which allowed man to transmigrate his conscience awareness to the ocean of abysmal writing?"

20 minute info dump containing quasi-scientific speculation on transmigration of one's awareness to the ocean of abysmal writing, which is far too vast and complex for human understanding (according to the author).

(very conservative mildly interested voice) "Why yes, I did loved him, he just insisted on having his own ideas about things, and was so cardboard that we won't even notice he's not around anymore, because we all act just like him. Well now that we don't have to worry about him, we can get back to analyzing why airlocks in the spaceship work how they do, all while being shot at by the same person that killed my husband."

Good job, when it comes to amazing ideas, terribly executed, this book ranks right up there with Brent Weeks' Night Angel.

Profile Image for Claudia.
947 reviews524 followers
June 18, 2021
> Conjoiners, Demarchists, Ultras, Skyjacks;
> Amarantins, the Shrouders, Revelation Space, the Pattern Jugglers, Resurgam, Cerberus, Hades;
> Ilia Volyova, Ana Khouri, Sylveste, Sajaki, the Captain, Nostalgia for Infinity;
> Sun Stealer, the Dawn War, the Inhibitors.

With good and bad, I love them all, and the story Al Reynolds wove around them. I had forgotten some details and it was such a pleasure now to rediscover and being able to focus mainly on them instead of the plot, which I already knew - this is what I like most about rereading.

It was written more than 20 years ago and it didn't age a bit, on the contrary, it is way ahead of its times and will remain so. One of my favorites sci-fi series ever.


Marvelous hard space opera.

Slowly built, with three story lines which at some point merge together, it depicts a very dark universe, full of technological wonders, both human and alien, but not all in the best interest of life.

Very well developed characters, plenty of descriptions of the surrounding worlds and technologies. I don't know if it will be on everyone's taste, for it is not quite full of action. The focus is mainly on the choices which have to be made, the struggle behind those choices and human behaviour when faced with major difficulties.

But, if I were to describe it with one word, this would be unpredictable. Yes, you can guess where is going, but there are turnarounds at every corner and not everyone is what's supposed to be.

Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Scott.
290 reviews295 followers
September 26, 2017
This is the book that made me fall in love with science fiction again.

I read a lot of SF in the 90s, but the genre had fallen off my radar until I picked this up and kicked off a sci-fi binge that I'm still on nearly a decade later.

Revelation Space is Space Opera of the grandest style, filled with high drama and soaring narrative arias. Like a number of SF works Reynolds' book deals with the Fermi paradox - the strange lack of other intelligent life in the universe, or at least other intelligent life that we can detect (see Cixin Liu's Dark Forest and Adam Roberts' the thing Itself for other examples of books based Fermi's concept). Reynolds' explores this question in a pretty epic manner - this is the first book in a series of four (all of which are pretty damn good).

Scientist Dan Sylveste, a driven, arrogant man, is investigating the remnants of an alien civilization on the planet Resurgam, a civilization that appears to have suddenly disappeared many millennia prior.

While Sylveste works the lighthugger (a near-lightspeed starship) Nostalgia for Infinity approaches Resurgam, its menacing crew seeking Silveste's help while the secrets within the vessel's mile-long bulk threaten to spill out with devastating effect.

What Sylveste discovers on Resurgam will illuminate the reasons behind the strange absence of intelligent life in the galaxy and set in motion one of the most interesting Science Fiction series in the genre.

Even ten years after reading this many of Revelation Space's amazing set pieces and concepts are still vivid in my mind. Mile long 'lighthugger' ships cross the interstellar desert at a hair under lightspeed, their crews living for centuries of subjective planetary time while their vessels spend years between colonies. Weapons that can split worlds. Nanotech plagues that render the microscopic tech a near death sentence for its users. A neutron star that has been turned into an inestimably powerful computer.

Reynolds is a natural, and he spins a damn fine high-stakes narrative in a galactic society that has fallen below its technological high water mark at the same time that it faces its greatest challenge. If you're an SF fan and you haven't read Revelation Space (or the even better Chasm City) put down what you're doing and order a copy. You won't regret it, and you'll be starting a journey that in my opinion is one of the best multi-book stories in SF, up there with Dan Simmons' Hyperion.
Profile Image for Warwick.
812 reviews14.5k followers
December 21, 2012
One day the world will be full of science fiction authors whose prose styles are as good as their imaginations. Yeah, there are a few. But on the evidence of this book, Alastair Reynolds isn't one of them.

What this novel does have going for it is a great theory of how the galaxy might look in 500 years' time. The picture painted here – of a lonely universe, full of space and mysteries and still limited by barriers like the speed of light – feels distinctly plausible and, presumably, owes a lot to Reynolds's day-job as a working astrophysicist.

There are other good points. Thanks Christ, here is a sci-fi author who writes good, strong women characters who are not just there to have a variety of unlikely futuristic sexual encounters. (...Although actually, thinking about it, one or two of those might not have gone amiss.)

The problem is that it's just not written all that well. The dialogue never strikes you as very realistic, and often consists of characters sitting around explaining chunks of the plot to each other. The narrative is pushed along in brief third-person sections, which stop and start apparently for no other reason than to engineer some dramatic tension, and which tend to finish on portentous one-line paragraphs like "But she was not quite fast enough."

Some sentences barely hold together. We are told strange things, such as when "Volyova dredged a clucking laugh from somewhere deep inside herself". Try visualising that if you can. And when Reynolds reaches for a suitably scientific metaphor, he has a way of bludgeoning the life out of it, with unintentionally comic effect.

Sylveste examined his own state of mind and found – it was the last thing he had expected – total calm. But it was like the calm that existed on the metallic hydrogen oceans of the gas giant planets further out from Pavonis – only maintained by crushing pressures from above and below.

I think that might be the worst paragraph I've read all year. It should be entered into some kind of competition.

Anyway, I don't want to put you off too much. It's fun, it's interesting, it's just not doing much to fight for sci-fi's place in literature. Revelation Space: it's funky, but it's clunky.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,318 reviews4,843 followers
September 24, 2022

"Revelation Space" takes place in the 26th century, when humans have achieved space travel and can journey vast distances in 'lighthugger' ships that fly at almost the speed of light.

The story opens on the planet Resurgam, which was inhabited by the Amarantin civilization until nine hundred thousand years ago. At that time, just when the Amarantin were about to attain space flight, a catastrophe wiped out the entire race.

Now, small human settlements populate Resurgam, one of which is led by Dan Sylveste - an archaeologist obsessed with studying the Amarantin and what happened to them.

Dan Sylveste is famous for being one of only a few humans who have visited two mysterious alien worlds: the Pattern Jugglers - an obscure oceanic race that can imprint information on the brains of visitors; and the Shrouders - hidden beings who guard the most dangerous devices in the galaxy. In fact, Dan is the only human who ever returned alive from a trip to the Shrouders.

Dan is also well-known for being the son of the brilliant deceased scientist, Calvin Sylveste. The thing is, though Calvin is dead, Dan can still see him and talk to him. Calvin's neural patterns have been saved and Dan can call up his father's image - which usually shows up reclining in a comfortable chair - when he needs to consult with the great man.

While Dan is going about his business (voluntarily and involuntarily) on Resurgam, a decrepit lighthugger called 'Nostalgia for Infinity' - which has lost almost everyone onboard - is trawling the galaxy looking for the archaeologist. The spaceship is infected with the Melding Plague, a nanotech virus that attacks both organic and inorganic substances.

The Plague - which has badly damaged the ship - also infected the Nostalgia's skipper, Captain Brannigan, while he was in reefersleep (suspended animation). The unfortunate Brannigan is now a grotesque being who's expanding, mutating, and merging with the spaceship.

Dan Sylveste once came aboard the Nostalgia to treat the Captain (with dead Calvin's help).....and the crew wants the archaeologist to help Brannigan once again. Meanwhile, the Captain is being kept at a temperature of absolute zero to retard the spread of the virus.

The Nostalgia's leading crew members are a Triumverate consisting of: Volyova - a female munitions expert who controls a ginormous cache of weapons that ranges from guns to star-destroyers; Sajaki - the defacto captain of the ship; and Hegazi - Sajaki's yes-man. Sajaki and Hegazi are extreme 'Ultras' - humans who have been exponentially enhanced with technological implants and bionic devices. The ship also carries a myriad of robotic servitors - including janitor rats - that function as auxiliary help.

The last major character in the story is a woman named Khouri. Khouri is a former soldier who was accidently transported to the planet Yellowstone while she was in reefersleep. On Yellowstone, Khouri became an assassin in a kind of 'Westworld' game. Bored rich people looking for excitement could arrange for an assassin to hunt them down while they tried to evade the killer. But if Khouri is the assigned assassin, the patron is a dead duck because Khouri never fails.

Thus, Khouri attracts the attention of a woman called Mademoiseille, who 'hires' (extorts) Khouri to kill Dan. Mademoiselle alleges that the future of humankind depends on Dan's death.

As the story plays out Khouri eventually gets on board the Nostalgia - which is also searching for Dan. And that's all I can say without spoilers.

Other characters in the story include Resurgam residents who want to thwart Dan's research into the Amarantin; a journalist who's compiling Dan's biography; a Nostalgia gunnery officer who goes completely insane; a wily cyber-being with an agenda; Dan's deceased wife; and more.

The book is almost 600 pages long, and there's plenty of techno-speak that describes planets, stars, spaceships, shuttles, weapons, bionic devices, alien races, alien artifacts, space-time, objective time, subjective time, alpha and beta 'copies' of dead people, sophisticated spacesuits, esoteric discoveries, etc. The book also has a number of sub-plots; some exciting shootouts; plenty of twists, turns, and surprises; and an innovative and compelling climax.

The author tends to be a bit verbose and over-descriptive at times, which slows down the story - and I occasionally had to resist skimming. Overall though, I enjoyed the book, which is imaginative and well-written. Highly recommended to science fiction fans.

You can follow my reviews at http://reviewsbybarbsaffer.blogspot.com/
Profile Image for seak.
429 reviews473 followers
October 13, 2012
My preferred genre is fantasy and the more epic the better for me. Shoot, the more volumes the better (okay, I draw the line at some point). But at the same time, I like variety. I'm the type of person who tries everything on the menu at a restaurant (not at the same time of course).

This doesn't change when it comes to my reading preferences. I don't stray too far from genre, but there's lots of variation from fantasy to science fiction, steampunk to urban fantasy, elfpunk, space opera, scifi-fantasy hybrids, etc. While I have been reading a lot of fantasy lately, it was high time I jumped into some science fiction.

I know, that was way too much of an intro for something so pointless. At the same time, I think people like a personal touch, I know I do. You be the judge.

I've had Revelation Space on my radar for a long time. Reynolds and Hamilton are the two big go-to names for space opera and until now I hadn't read either of them. Reynolds may possibly be known more for being hard sci-fi, but to be honest, I barely know the difference. Sad, I know, especially with how much I just learned I've been missing out on.

In earth's distant future, the galaxy is full of different factions of humanity, the Stoners, the Ultras, and the Conjoiners among them. There are alien races such as the Jugglers and the Shrouders.

Dan Sylveste is a Stoner who is on an archaeological dig on the planet Resurgam where they have found artifacts belonging to an ancient alien civilization, the Amarantins. Something caused their distruction, termed The Event, and Sylveste is willing to do what it takes to find out, he is one of a smaller faction who believes understanding The Event is absolutely necessary to prevent it from happening to humanity as well.

At the same time, the crew of the Nostalgia for Infinity enter the picture. The Nostalgia is a lighthugger vessel, kilometers long, full of all manner of technology, weapons, agriculture, and with the ability to almost reach the speed of light due to its Conjoiner engines.

Volyova is the weapons officer in need of a new gunnery officer since she had to kill the last one who went insane. Then comes Khouri, and this is the part that really got me sucked in. Due to a clerical mistake, she was sent to another system, lightyears away from her husband, after the war on Sky's Edge. Any chance of coming together puts one of the pair 40 years older at best.

While the timeline is vast and the distances lightyear-spanning, the story really only centers around a few characters, or rather groups of characters. There's Sylveste and the various peoples he associates with (mostly unwillingly) and then there's Volyova and her crew. Khouri is at first a third party, but quickly jumps in with the lighthugger crew.

I'd like to say I could begin to describe the technologies and peoples and interconnectedness of the whole thing, but I just can't get close. The technology is very believable, even to the point that you can see it as a logical development. Hence why this is known as hard sci-fi, I guess. The factions of humanity is also completely believable, from those who love all the gadgetry and implant it all over themselves (Ultras), to those who enhance their minds so much with machinery that they reach enlightenment (Conjoiners).

At times I was purely in awe of Reynolds' imagination. I could see the neutron stars (or not see them), the wonder was just captivating, it was like being in space in my mind. I loved that we're dealing with kilometer-long ships that have machines that can manufacture anything you need, guns, ship parts, etc. in a matter of seconds.

At the same time, it can be slow going at times and I think that's the reason I can't quite go to five stars on this one. It's a great read and one I would definitely recommend, but I think I was expecting more after this long of a wait (nothing of which Reynolds could do anything about of course). I know, "manage expectations," but I've been building up to this one for years. The fact that it didn't completely disappoint is actually pretty impressive if you think about it.

I also think the limited characters actually tended to diminish the vastness of the story. With only so few being the focus, it was hard to really think of this as a story with heavy implications for humanity. It felt too closed-off, too intimate for anything to really be at stake.

At the same time, the plotting was quite exceptional, tying in almost everything that's introduced throughout the novel. As you can see from this review, I haven't even begun to discuss it. Chalk that up to a combination of laziness and honest incapacity.

While I had a few reservations, I will definitely be reading more from Reynolds, I already own Chasm City (more of a prequel), so that will probably be next before I finish this trilogy. I'm happy to have finally read this king of space opera/hard sci-fi (depending on who you talk to) and I feel like I can finally enter the club, almost. Reynolds is a king of this genre for a reason, his imagination is vast and his characters compelling

4 out of 5 Stars (Highly Recommended)
Profile Image for Dirk Grobbelaar.
550 reviews1,051 followers
December 24, 2018
Update and minor edit

OK, so I can confirm now that the Revelation Space series is one of the favouritest favourites.

Delayed Review

I read Revelation Space back when the Rust Belt was still the Glitter Band (ho ho). However, I recall enough to know that it is brilliant stuff.

I’m sticking to the five star rating I gave it at the time. In fact, this book is also on my Favourites shelf, and there it shall remain.

I really enjoyed the dark and gothic vibe of Revelation Space, which, by the way, is exploited just as magnificently in the other (related) novels, such as Chasm City. I also liked the apparently unrelated plots, separated quite literally by time and space, which eventually interwove and culminated as a single thread. I’m a bit of a sucker for xeno-archaelogical mysteries and artifacts in Science Fiction, so these aspects of the novel, in particular, appealed to me.

Reynolds held me in thrall with his vision; I devoured all the sequels and prequels that were subsequently published. The mixed reviews here indicate that not everybody shared that sentiment, but I owe a debt of gratitude to the author for introducing me to the harder and edgier variety of Science Fiction, where the lines between Hard SF and Space Opera become a bit blurred. This was also the book, apart from Larry Niven’s Ringworld, that really kick-started my fondness for big idea SF.

Nostalgia for Infinity

The Nostalgia for Infinity garners a special mention: a massive ship that used to carry hundreds of thousands of crew and passengers, now only crewed by a handful of genetically modified humans. The endless corridors on this cathedral-like vessel evoked all kinds of imagery of desolation, loneliness and outright creepiness.

Fermi Paradox

I don’t want to go into this, since it is spoiler territory, but the Wolves (Inhibitors) were rather scary. It’s a frightening concept, no?

The last word

Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books3,912 followers
January 28, 2014
This was a great read if you're looking for a fully fleshed out setting populated by one delightfully egotistical protagonist/villain and equally morally suspect crew of an ultra's spacecraft. The scope was very large and I always love that. It took some time to get into many of the characters, but by the end it was worth it. I loved the ending so much that I picked up the next in the series, even though I knew that they were only tangentially related.
Definitely books for when you need to throw yourself fully into an escapist space. It may not be the best I've ever read, but it was very fun.
Profile Image for Princessjay.
548 reviews25 followers
March 20, 2012
2.5 STARS that I cannot round up to 3.

I like long books. After a while, there's a sense of familiarity that comes from having been immersed in a world, a situation, a set of characters, that is very soothing. However, I do need decent characters to latch on-to for maximum enjoyment.

At 600-plus pages, Revelation Space is a comfortably long first novel in a trilogy. It is set in a dark, entropic universe, where the human race has populated or at least surveyed much of the galaxy, but seems to have past its prime, and everything is slowly falling apart -- political factions & civil unrest, a plague that infects technology itself, the trials of being stranded on a planet with no way out... A well-constructed, gloomy universe, with much room for exploration.

Unfortunately, the characters themselves leave much to be desired. I could not, for the life of me, get a grasp on their degree of humanity. The main problem is this: there is not a clear and consistent moral outlook in this universe. Characters are described schizophrenically as bad-ass future space-farers who, in their centuries of life, have seen and participated in much routine violence & destruction, yet in the next paragraph experience horror and remorse at comparatively minor atrocities they must do by logic or circumstances -- without any kind of justification for merging these two facets together to form cohesive human beings.

For example, one main character spends decades traveling through the cosmos seeking to cure her Captain from a disgusting plague, yet barely cares whether her fellow space-crew -- along whose side she had worked and lived for decades -- are alive or dead. A few words to explain why she can be so loyal to a Captain who has been cryogenically frozen for years yet sociopathic to her co-workers would do much to make her into a living, breathing, contradictory human being. As it were, she is a collection of traits & obsessions that does not come together to form a whole.

And this is the case for most of the characters. This, and the frantic, unnecessary shifts of perspective to create artificial cliff-hangers, killed much of my enjoyment.

Finally, I wouldn't really call this space opera -- it lacks the sweep of destiny, the giant emotionality, the sheer number of people and time that is implicit in the genre. This is a story about a couple of people, often trapped inside their own heads, over a couple decades & a few light years, converging into a single incident that may, theoretically, impact humanity...

A good first novel, but I am hoping the next books in the series will be much improved.
Profile Image for William.
229 reviews34 followers
October 13, 2020
Revelation space is the first book in Alistair Reynolds’ eponymous science fiction series. It is the story of monomaniacal archaeologist Dan Sylveste’s quest to excavate the secrets of the Amarantin, an extinct humanoid race who mysteriously disappeared centuries ago without a trace.

The story begins on planet Resurgam, as Sylveste’s team of scientists face a decision of whether or not to continue their work in the face of a deadly storm headed their way. Sylveste is convinced they are close to a significant discovery regarding the Amarantin and insists they press on despite his team’s objections.

Meanwhile, a crew of space pirates called “Ultranauts” seeks out Sylveste, hoping his renowned expertise in the field of nanotechnology can save their captain from a highly contagious nano-virus that has wiped out entire planets.

When the Ultranaut vessel stops at planet Yellowstone hoping to find Sylveste at his home, their ship is infiltrated by a trained assassin named Ana Kouri posing as a new crew member. Khouri joins the crew ostensibly to return to her home planet, but her actual mission is to murder Dan Sylveste.

The setting is a gritty, desolate, and unforgiving universe in which humanity finds itself in imminent danger of extinction. Human colonies on alien worlds feel fragile and vulnerable, at risk of succumbing to the harsh conditions outside their environment domes at any given time. Despite taking place in the far future, humanity has never discovered faster than light travel. As a result, many of the characters live disconnected lives spanning centuries, broken up by the long periods of hibernation necessary for space travel.

The cast is a motley assortment of cybernetic pirates, Indiana Jones-style archaeologists, Vive-la-resistance revolutionaries, and enigmatic aliens, including a sentient ocean and inhabitants of a zone outside the normal space-time continuum. Character interactions are smart, romantic, and provide an underlying plausibility for the story.

Alistair Reynolds is a master of using passive scenes to convey information about the setting efficiently and interestingly. Active scenes are always shocking in some way, and often epic in scope. The dialog is well-written, organic, and funny. The pace of Revelation Space was perfect for my tastes, and I was never tempted to put it down. The ending was both satisfying and provided an irresistible lead-in to the second book, Redemption Ark. Thematically, the book explores obsession, discovery, love, loss, revenge, and of course, “revelation.”

Revelation Space is one of my favorite books, and I highly recommend it to all adult fans of space opera, cyberpunk, and horror genres.

This review is also posted on my blog, Hidden Gems.
Profile Image for She-who-must-not-be-named .
179 reviews1,164 followers
December 19, 2020
A complex space-opera plot with a shallow world confined only to characters' stance, Revelation Space is cogent in all its guises but fails in lack of proper implementation.
Profile Image for David Sven.
288 reviews445 followers
June 26, 2013
This is a lot how I imagine Peter F Hamilton would read like if he never got sidetracked and had a manageable number of story arcs, with half the word count. Alistair Reynolds delivers a ripper that is part space opera part cyberpunk and a touch of horror. I’m guessing this is what you would call “hard scifi” – I’m not too sure because it lacks the poor and often cartoony characterization and bland prose style that has been my normal(though limited) experience with hard scifi – Yeah, I’m looking at you Asimov... and Niven, don’t you be ducking and trying to hide your three legged, two headed sock muppet - I’ve already seen it.

The story throws us into a post human civilization in the 26th century where the development of near light speed travel has seen humanity spread out through the galaxy. Humans have further diverged as advances in nanotechnology and cybernetics sees some groups of humans swapping out body parts for integrated machinery and implants. Some, like the Conjoiners, have even changed out brain cells for nanotech cells to the extent where eventually the limitations of the brain’s processing power is transcended. And then there are those who have gone the whole hog and uploaded themselves into machinery, transitioning from thinking organisms to sentient software. The inner space battles in this book are just as intense as the physical fights.

The first half of the book was a little slow and it took me a bit to get oriented in the Universe Reynolds has created – but coming into the second half the plot was flying at light speed and it was hard to put down.

The star of the show for me, and arguably what kept me on the hook through the first half of the story was the Nostalgia for Infinity - a “lighthugger” ie a spaceship capable of travelling at near light speed. The Nostalgia for Infinity is a centuries old, four kilometer long generation ship. Once it held hundreds of thousands of travelers in cryosleep, but now it is crewed by a mere handful of militaristic types consisting of three Ultra’s,( ie part human part machine chimerics (cyborgs?) who have designed themselves for the rigours of living in deep space) as well as a couple of extras who the Ultra’s have usually kidnapped and subjugated with “loyalty implants.” And then there is the Captain - who is something else again, an extreme chimeric that could only be called human in the loosest sense of the word - One scary dude.

Apart from the crew, the spaceship itself is pretty cool. I liked the janitor-rats. Rodents genetically engineered with biochemical receptors attuned to receive instructions from the ship. Then there’s the gunnery with planet slagging weapons, controlled by neural interface with a gunnery officer. And then there are places that even the Ultra’s fear to tread - Places where the dead speak or where viruses have taken over the machinery. Fascinating and intriguing.

But, as scary as the Nostlgia for Infinity and it’s cyborg crew are, there things a lot worse out there. Alien things - Things that have been lying dormant for hundreds of millenia. Some secrets are best left buried. Some things just aren’t meant to be dug up.

Surprisingly enjoyable given the slow start.

4 stars
Profile Image for Scott.
Author 47 books23.8k followers
November 12, 2012
Sprawling, energetic, idea-packed, and ambitious as hell. I really did enjoy this one, despite some fairly strong qualms, and I plan to keep reading in the sequence.

Reynolds has an attractive habit of trying to end each major scene in the novel with some sort of cliffhanger or interesting hint, and an equally unattractive habit of then giving us the conclusion or the revelation as a flashback within a future scene. For a hypothetical example, imagine a scene ending with a character staring at a bomb that is about to explode. The next scene will feature that same character calmly eating breakfast, and after four or five pages of breakfast, we'll get an omniscient digression back to how they handled the bomb. This disjointing of the narrative flow is repeated, over and over again, and at times it pounds the novel's sense of story progression into fragments. As a narrative device, it tosses aside the advantage of straightforward chronology but doesn't add any particular artistic or thematic character in return... it's merely annoying, the authorial equivalent of a nervous tic.

The final portion of the book suffers, as an awful lot of contemporary big-concept hard SF novels do, from an unnatural acceleration in its last few dozen pages as action upon action and revelation upon revelation are crammed into an exceedingly tiny space. It's a classic, cautionary example of the dictum that just because a novel has stopped does not mean an ending has been written.

Still, it's got an awful lot to recommend it, including a colorful refusal to allow FTL travel or communication and a lot of fascinating speculation relevant to the Fermi Paradox. One thing I will grant Revelation Space is that it, moreso than any other science fiction novel I've ever read, does a bang-up job of simultaneously expressing how imponderably huge our galaxy is, and yet how very, very small it is on a universal scale. Reynolds' astronomical background is richly expressed in his work, and a thoughtful reader's mind will be bent in many directions.
Profile Image for Aletheia.
268 reviews107 followers
August 31, 2022
Me ha gustado Espacio Revelación, pero me ha gustado mucho menos de lo que recordaba.

Seguimos tres personajes: un arqueólogo que dirige la excavación de una antigua ciudad alienígena, una exsoldado que sobrevive como puede asesinando a ricos por encargo, y una humana totalmente adaptada a vivir en el espacio a bordo de una nave hiperlumínica.

Hasta un poco más allá del ecuador de la novela todo serían elogios para Reynolds: ciencia ficción alucinante, ideas atrevidas, se atreve con dimensiones espaciales y temporales generosas, naves espaciales kilométricas, armas con ideas propias, personajes atípicos... todo a lo grande.

El problema, y ahí si que se nota que sea su primera novela, es que todo se empieza a estancar y embarullar cuando une sus tres líneas argumentales. El conflicto central de la novela se alarga como un chicle y para ese momento hemos seguido revoluciones políticas, asesinatos, plagas alienígenas, secuestros y un montón de misterios que al final se resuelven un poco a bulto. Deus ex machina, no, gracias.

De todas formas, sí me quedo con ganas de continuar la saga a ver qué se cuece más adelante.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Dave Edmunds.
247 reviews52 followers
May 12, 2021

"The cards always look different when it’s your turn to play them; loaded with subtly different possibilities"

I decided to take a walk on the wild side this month, reading Alistair Reyonolds' sprawling space opera, Revelation Space. We're talking pure, full on hard sci fi. Reynolds is a former astro-physicist with a Ph.D in astrology. It definitely shows and I have to say that this is a challenging but rewarding reading experience. There's a range of concepts that require a little bit of effort to get your head around, and some technical words to interpret, and my brain definitely felt like it had pushed through a workout at the conclusion. For me personally, it's nice to challenge that grey matter now and again.

The plot centres around three seperate storylines, involving different POVs that eventually converge to form a single but complex narrative. We have the main protagonist, Dan Silveste, an archeolgist investigating the mysterious demise of an alien species. There's Ilia Volyova an officer on the space ship Nostalgia for Infinity who has a vested interest in finding Silveste. Finally, Ana Khouri a hired assassin whoose mission is to find and kill Silveste (he's a very popular guy). The character's in this one may not be the nicest bunch, but they are realistic and intriguing in terms of their motivation and drives.

"The human capacity for grief. It just isn't capable of providing an adequate emotional response once the dead exceed a few dozen in number. And it doesn't just level off—it just gives up, resets itself to zero."

As I've already touched on, there's a lot of interesting science to absorb and Reynolds' world building is very impressive. His knowledge and expertise certainly help in his ability to vividly describe space and the planetary systems, as well as the space vessels. The scenes aboard the Nostalgia for Infinity are very well done and so atmospheric. You can definitely picture life aboard this hulking and sometimes claustrophobic vessel. It does however get a little wordy sometimes and it certainly helped reading this on my Kindle with the inbuilt dictionary.

Although the plot is well constructed with some intesnse action sequences, the book does lag at certain points and I'd even go so far as to say it does become a slog sometimes. In my opinion a couple of hundred pages could have been removed from this one and it would have hugely improved the pacing. You know those times in a book where you're tempted to skim ahead? Not good.

"It looked like a biology lesson for gods, or a snapshot of the kind of pornography which might be enjoyed by sentient planets."

But where this book more than makes up for this is with the ideas and concepts it explores. You've got so much stuff to consider, space travel, cyborgs, memory implants, the list goes on. It's absolutely enthralling sometimes. I certainly finished the book feeling like I'd expanded my mind but certainly in need of some easy reading. A bit of Dean Koontz maybe. In conclusion, I was thoroughly entertained if a little over whelmed. I'm certainly a stronger reader for it and recommend you give it a try and go where no man has gone before.
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,106 reviews3,882 followers
March 26, 2021
An epic "hard" sci-fi space opera (so my teen tells me), with links to some of Reynolds' other novels, but which works well as a standalone book too.

It opens with three separate storylines, which gradually come together: Dan Sylveste, an archaeologist, researching the extinct Amarantin of the planet Resurgam; a spaceship crewed by ultras, with a sick captain in reefersleep and the triumvirate jostling for power; an assassin recruited in Chasm City on Yellowstone. It does mean the early chapters jump around rather frequently, but generally it works.

Reynolds is a good story teller. The plots are engaging, and he has a good balance between enough exposition to avoid confusing the reader, but withholding some to tantalise the reader so they are compelled to read on.

However, there is one major prong of the plot (the ultra's mission) that involved a huge amount of effort for an apparently pointless reason. I found it increasingly frustrating, and when an explanation was eventually given, it wasn't very satisfying and felt more like a plot device (to bring the storylines together) than actual plot.

The story has elements of thriller (the assassin and the spaceship), mystery (how the Amarantin died out, the Sylveste Institute and what happened to Cal's alpha sim) and psychological drama (what the Shrouders are, and what revelation space is).

The weakness is in the characterisation, and I found it more noticeable in this than in Chasm City or The Prefect. There are plenty of strong female characters, but you wouldn't know they were female if he didn't tell you, and I was taken surprise by a relationship that developed and was never convinced by it, even when one partner mentioned their love for the other. I wouldn't want a slushy romance, but this lacked credibility.

There are also places where it seems a little too derivative, mainly of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars, and like them, it would make a fantastic film: it is very cinematic.

Yet despite these weaknesses, it's still more than 3* because I enjoyed it so much and wanted to know what happened and why.

There were some wonderful ideas, e.g. "a fastidious neatness... like a poltergeist in reverse"; "always feel that Volyova had spent hours rehearsing, hoping she would sound off-the-cuff"; "most of woke up in the recovery suite"; "It looked like a biology lesson for the gods, or a snapshot of the kind of pornography which might be enjoyed by sentient planets", and "hanging sculptures which subscribed to no recognisable aesthetic tendency".

Best of all was something to make an iPad seem dull: a virtual reality biography, "accessed in may ways, from different viewpoints, and with varying degrees of interactivity", so the subject gets disoriented by his own life story, because it was "constructed with no regard for the niceties of linear time" and included a "shattered mosaic of interchangeable events". I want one. But till such a thing exists, I'll move on to another Reynolds.
Profile Image for Stuart.
708 reviews262 followers
October 16, 2016
Revelation Space: Dark, dense, slow-burning space opera
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature
I’ve been planning to read this series for many years, because Alastair Reynolds, Peter F. Hamilton, Stephen Baxter, Ken MacLeod, Charles Stross and Iain M. Banks are regularly mentioned at the forefront of the British Hard SF movement. Sure, there are many non-British well-known hard SF and space opera practitioners like Kim Stanley Robinson, Greg Bear, Gregory Benford, Vernor Vinge, Dan Simmons, Greg Egan, Peter Watts, and Hannu Rajiamieni, but it seems as though the Brits have had the upper hand in terms of numbers over the last decade or so. The authors typically have impressive scientific backgrounds to give their speculations credibility, having training in astronomy, physics, mathematics, mechanical engineering, computer programming, etc, much more-so than most authors in the Golden Age of SF. Science itself has come a long way since then as well, so it behooves the SF genre to evolve with it.

Of the new British SF Invasion members, I think Reynolds and Hamilton are the most prolific and prominent names, and most interestingly, I have been told that they are diametrically opposed in their tone and approach: the far-future universes of Reynolds are generally dark, pessimistic, and frightening places, where the humans themselves are so technologically advanced that they no longer seem human; in contrast, while Hamilton creates incredibly vast and complex galactic milieus, his human characters remain familiar enough that we can cheer for them. So I was told that if I have a pessimistic view of humanity’s future I’ll probably like Reynolds’ works, and vice-versa for Hamilton. Granted, you cannot categorize the works of most authors so simply, but enough fellow readers have made the same comments that surely there must be an element of truth to it.

Revelation Space is Reynolds’ debut novel, and the opening book in his REVELATION SPACE series of hard SF novels set in the far future, so it’s a natural place to start if you’re interested in his work. As a debut novel, it benefits from the enthusiasm of a new author giving voice to ideas they have been playing with for many years, but may lack the polished writing skills that may come with experience. Notably, the audiobook is narrated by John Lee, who does the entire series. He has the proper gravitas for serious space opera, but because several of the characters are of Russian decent, he gives them heavy accents that are difficult to understand at times, and get a bit tiresome during the 22-hour narrative.

Reynolds’ future universe, starting in the year 2551, is fully developed. Mankind has colonized many worlds in our part of the galaxy, but has not developed FTL technology, so star travel is frequently done while in hibernation (“reefer sleep”), and the level of cybernetic technology has split humanity into a number of sub-species, including Ultras (highly-augmented cyborgs) and Conjoiners (mentally-linked humans with hive-mind traits). There are also some very advanced and mysterious aliens like the Pattern Jugglers (essentially a sentient ocean somewhat akin to Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris with a collective consciousness that can incorporate the minds of other species that come in contact with it) and the Shrouders, ultra-powerful aliens that have taken refuge in impenetrable shrouds of space that shred any that attempt to enter.

Unfortunately, humanity has also encountered the remains of many dead alien civilizations, which recalls Fermi’s Paradox of why we have not been contacted by other alien species despite the billions of potentially-habitable worlds in the universe. One of those races, the bird-like Amaranti, are the subject of study of our of the books’ main protagonists, Daniel Slyveste, who is an archeologist examing the remains of the Amaranti on the barren planet of Resurgam in the Delta Pavonis system. When he discovers a buried obelisk (with overtones of the monoliths in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey) that mentions a mysterious Sun Stealer god and signs of advanced technology that are at odds with their level of civilization, he seeks to learn more, but rival factions on Resurgam are opposed over terraforming of the planet, and a bloody civil war erupts.

Following the rebellion, in virtually the first action after 175 pages, Sylveste and his wife Pascale survive a surprise attack but have to flee into exile. So many details of this sequence recall the betrayal of House Atreides and the flight of Paul and his mother Jessica into the desert in Frank Herbert’s Dune. In fact, many of the complex and baroque details of Reynolds’ future universe reminded me very strongly of that classic SF epic. Paul McAuley has called the book “gonzo cybergoth space opera,” and that certainly captures its unique flavor.

Meanwhile, we meet Ana Khouri, a deadly assassin living in Chasm City who is hired to hunt down her own clients, reflecting the twisted ennui of decadent future societies in need of a thrill. If they can survive until a deadline stipulated in the contract, they can brag about this to their socialite friends. This reminded me of the decadent future milieu of Iain M. Banks’ CULTURE novels. Through an over-complicated plot involving the mysterious “Madmoiselle,” Khouri is forced to infiltrate the giant spaceship Nostalgia for Infinity, which is largely deserted and only manned by a tiny skeleton crew of cybernetically-modified Ultras. The ship is run by Illia Volyova, a weapons expert who has taken over because the Captain has been struck by a nasty cyber-virus that is slowing transforming him, so he is kept in deep freeze as they rush to Resurgam in the belief that only Daniel Sylveste can save him.

Having set the stage for some interstellar space adventure in a vast galactic panorama in Revelation Space, Reynolds instead elects to pad the middle portion of his almost 600-page tome with layer after layer of intrigue and talking among the cold, cerebral, and ultra-intelligent mercenaries of the Nostalgia for Infinity, very reminiscent of the cynical post-human characters of Peter Watt’s Blindsight and Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon. What is it with cyberpunk post-humans in hard SF? It seems de rigueur that as humans become increasingly wedded to technology and mods/neural implants, they become less sympathetic than ‘normal’ humans. This characterization was probably pioneered William Gibson, the widely-acknowledged father of cyberpunk. I think he has never written a single likable or sympathetic character in any of his novels, and that is a very deliberate authorial choice. Reynolds certainly subscribes to this approach, as do Watts and Morgan. Sylveste, Khouri, Volyova are not characters we can love, but they are certainly complex and deadly-serious.

The ship harbors a secret cache of extremely advanced weapons, so there is much intrigue about who controls them, what the Mademoiselle wants in relation to the ship and Daniel Sylveste, the loyalties of the ship members themselves, the real purpose of their mission, and what they will find on Resurgam. The weight of obsessive details really bogged down the story here, and its a problem that seems to regularly occur for massive hard SF epics — instead of forwarding the plot through a series of inventive set-pieces on various planets, we are stuck with 4-5 characters endlessly scheming and discussing the situation, but nothing actually HAPPENING. It got really tiresome, even after they got Sylveste onboard.

At long last the story enters its final act, as the Nostalgia approaches a mysterious system called Cerberus/Hades, where an artificial satellite orbits a neutron star. Since our crew continues to struggle over control, with some out to assassinate others and control the cache of planet-busting weaponry, they elect to risk everything by landing the satellite and discovering the secrets it hides. Here is where the story got interesting again, as there are a flood of intriguing reveals that relate to the long-dead Amaranti and other lost alien races throughout the galaxy. Reynolds is of course setting the stage for future events that will be covered in the sequels, so Revelation Space ends somewhat anti-climactically but with enough teasers that I think hard SF/space opera fans will be sufficiently intrigued to read further.
Profile Image for Heidi The Reader.
1,372 reviews1,421 followers
February 5, 2020
Through the interweaving stories of a scientist, soldier, and weapons expert, Alastair Reynolds explores classic science fiction themes in Revelation Space, a space opera and mystery.

"Despite being buried for nine hundred thousand years - at the very least - the chambers were almost intact, with the bones inside still assuming a rough anatomical relationship to one another. They were typical Amarantin skeletons." pg 11, ebook

Nearly a million years previous, an entire species called Amarantin disappeared in a mysterious celestial-based disaster called, by those who study the geological record, "The Event". Dan Sylveste, a scientist with unique machines for eyes, is trying to unearth the truth of what happened to them.

Khouri, a former soldier turned assassin for a semi-secret agency, goes on a routine assignment, only to have the experience turn into something entirely unexpected.

"Assassins, it turned out, had to be among the sanest, most analytic people on the planet. They had to know exactly when a kill would be legal - and when it would cross the sometimes blurred line into murder and send a company's stocks crashing into the Mulch." pg 45, ebook

Meanwhile, on an enormous space ship capable of traveling across the universe at nearly the speed of light, Volyova has a serious problem. Her captain has a strange disease that is assimilating his ailing body into the ship itself and the man she hired to run the ship's guns has gone insane. Could these two disasters be connected somehow?

"It was not something to which she was ever going to become totally accustomed, Volyova knew, but in recent weeks visiting the Captain had begun to take on definite tones of normality. As if visiting a cryogenically cooled corpse infected with a retarded but potentially all-consuming plague was merely one of life's unpleasant but necessary elements..." pg 35, ebook

Throughout the story, Reynolds asks the reader to imagine a humanity that has split itself into factions. Some groups travel among the stars, assimilating rare machines into their bodies, losing touch with what it means to be human as they spend years in frozen animation while the rest of the universe ages as usual.

Other groups are just as isolated on far-flung planets and develop their own cultures, ways of government, and quickly-shifting alliances.

Also, through the story of the extinct Amarantin, Reynolds examines what it would mean if humanity discovered aliens were real, but mysteriously absent from huge swathes of what is otherwise inhabitable space. Are we really as alone in the universe as we appear to be? And why is that so.

"Something had reached into his mind and spoken to him. But the message that was imparted to him was so brutally alien that Sylveste could not begin to put in human terms. He had stepped into Revelation Space." pg 100, ebook

The broad themes of Revelation Space are fun questions to ponder, but Reynolds' storytelling suffers in some of his more technical moments and during a truncated love story. A couple times during the beginning of the book, I had difficulty picturing scenes because I would get so bogged down in the details. But that became easier as the story progressed.

The love story though, was one of the worst I've read in science fiction literature. It made me feel like the woman was just a plot device for Reynolds to be able to explain some of the more complex plot twists. That's fine if that's what she was meant to be, but it was rather off-putting. I do enjoy a good love story and felt like, if you were going to make it so awkward, maybe it didn't belong in there.

Otherwise, I enjoyed this read and intend to start the next soon. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy science fiction and stories that make you want to go stand outside and stare at the stars for awhile.
Profile Image for Megan Baxter.
985 reviews658 followers
July 13, 2014
This was quite enjoyable, and another book in the "I liked it but didn't love it" file. Revelation Space is a sprawling trip through time (in only one direction) through a universe filled with unknown and unknowable aliens, human factions, and a dead world, killed aeons ago by a solar flare that might or might not have been related to the spacefaring contingent of that world - according to the main character, Dan Sylveste, at least. No one else believes him.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
Profile Image for Alex Nieves.
172 reviews637 followers
June 27, 2021
Full video review here: https://youtu.be/68Az-BXTBsQ

I definitely enjoyed this first book in the series by Alistair Reynolds. The themes, concepts, and attention to detail were next level. While this book started out incredibly strong after a couple of chapters for me, the middle unfortunately dragged a little bit and meandered and that sort of detracted from my overall enjoyment of book.

I really did like how the book wrapped up though and I did enjoy it enough to want to continue and I'm hoping that the character work gets better throughout the series because that was definitely the weakest part of the book. I never got attached to the characters or really even liked them all that much.

I enjoyed it overall, and I want to read the next book in the series and I hope that it alleviates some of the issues that I had with this one.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,517 reviews10.9k followers
June 27, 2010
4.5 stars. I really struggled with whether to give this a 4 or 5 star rating. On the 5 star side (or even the 6 star side as I give those books I think are truly special) the ideas, concepts, technology, world-building (or better stated, galactic civilization building) and descriptions of the various factions of humanity are amazingly original and incredibly entertaining. Put simply, there are a lot of "WOW" moments where I said "this guy is brilliant."

Also on the level of a 5 star novel is the plot itself, which is complex, slowly unfolding and very, very good.

The only aspect of the book that kept it me from giving it a 5 star or higher rating was the characterization. The characters were a little hard to relate to in any meaningful way. Their interaction with one another and their underlying motivations were difficult to feel and so the reader (i.e. me) was not as emotionally invested in the plot, and thus not as interested in the characters' eventual fate, as I would have liked to have been.

Still, overall, this was a superb 21st century space opera and the authors ability to wow readers with original concepts and amazing technology is as good as it gets. Definitely worth a read. Recommended!!!

Nominee: Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Novel
Nominee: Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel
Nominee: Locus Award for Best First Novel
Profile Image for Ian.
125 reviews464 followers
July 26, 2012
I debated whether to write a review of Revelation Space on its own or wait until I finished the Revelation Space trilogy and write a single review of the whole story. This is a debate that goes on in my head any time I read a multi-book series and I haven't established a blanket policy one way or the other. For me, it depends.

Take, for example, Dan Simmons' Ilium and Olympos . They are really one book that was split arbitrarily because it was too long to publish in a single volume. Think LotR or Connie Willis' Blackout/All Clear series. In the case of Ilium and Olympos I chose to write one review of both books since the storylines couldn't be separated; that is, neither book stood on its own as a complete story. My review, which I placed under Olympos on GR, discusses the entire story and differentiates between the two books where appropriate. (In that case, mainly, the differentiation involved quality. Even though they encompass a single story arc, Ilium was simply the better book.)

On the other hand, consider Robert J. Sawyer's Neanderthal Parallax series. It's a trilogy comprising Hominids , Humans , and Hybrids . While they also encompass an overall story arc, the first and third books in that series also make decent stand-alone stories, so I wrote separate reviews for Hominids and Hybrids .

The Revelation Space series, in my mind, is more like the latter example, where the books have an overarching theme and storyline but still make good stand-alone stories. (The comparison only goes so far, though; in particular Revelation Space is better writing.) As I write this review, I have finished the first two books in the series: Revelation Space and Redemption Arc, and I'm working on the third. Revelation Space in particular deserves its own review because, not only does it make a good stand-alone book, it also expertly sets up the framework for a universe that Alastair Reynolds will use for five novels and two short-story collections (indeed I hope that's just the start).

Revelation Space is not perfect by any means. There is the occasional bit of overly dramatized cheese and some characters are oh-come-on too obvious. But I don't want to focus on the negatives. The positives far outweigh the few things I don't like.

For starters, Revelation Space sets up an entirely believable future universe within the bounds of physics and, just as important, within the bounds of human nature. There's no warp drives or transporters, just like there's no loss of all high technology, and there's no utopian or dystopian extremes in society. The technology of the future human civilization falls within imaginable limits—maybe stretches the limits a little, but what good sci-fi doesn’t? The important thing is that it still has limits and things like relativistic effects and time dilation play a role. The technological limits that Reynolds places upon his universe also have practical effects on the human societies he built within its framework. Sub-light travel (near-light speed, but still not FTL) has limited the growth of human civilization to a reasonable degree, say a few dozen light years in any direction, and the limits of sub-light space travel result in human societies growing diverse through their isolation. The ships which travel the space lanes between worlds develop a society and culture of their own, as their lives are so much different from those who live on or around planets. Even within systems, there are societal differences between the planet-side cities and those in orbit. In essence, human civilization and society are not one, big, happy "Federation."

Another thing Reynolds does well, and along similar lines to the things mentioned above, is his projection of contemporary human society on a future, higher-tech, space-faring framework. Call it the holographic principle at work—the projection of a planet-bound society into the depth and breadth of space—and it's a projection I can believe. Like any good sci-fi work Reynolds' writing isn't merely predictive, but descriptive. In Revelation Space you'll find all the familiar human attitudes and motivations, which makes the characters much more relatable than they would have been had his work pushed the utopian or dystopian extremes. (Think of Star Trek and The Road, both of which have relate-ability issues because people are too good or too bad, respectively).

Speaking of characters, they are, for the most part, pretty three-dimensional. There is the depth and realism to the major characters that is required for a epic space opera to really take hold in the reader's mind. I don't know about you, but epic-scale adventure and big boobs and big booms is not enough for me; that stuff is great and all, but only if I can believe what's happening. The major characters in Revelation Space each have their own life histories that brought them to this point, and I really felt as though Reynolds drew up their life histories in advance, thinking about how each person's history affected his or her personality and attitudes. The characters' histories aren't revealed to you all at once, but rather layer-by-later. You learn more about them as you get to know them, as you would any friend or enemy. I'm not saying there are no cardboard-thin characters in Revelation Space; there are, but the big ones are sufficiently deep for me.

Let's stay on the character theme and talk about the women: Pascal Sylveste, Ilia Volyova, and Ana Khouri. For a long time, sci-fi lacked female characters who were both strong and believable. Too many male sci-fi writers created fantasy women with big tits and big guns … Laura Croft in space … women who were "strong" insofar as they threw a good punch and played dominatrix in the bedroom. Reynolds doesn't fall into that trap. He creates women that I can believe, and believe in; women who are real leaders and exhibit real strength of character and will. It's not that he's a pioneer in that area, but I'm glad to see another writer continue the trend of producing quality, equal-opportunity hard sci-fi.

The quality of the underlying storytelling I thought was excellent and on par with what I've come to expect of Alastair Reynolds. My first experience with Reynolds was House of Suns , which was all the rage a couple years back. That book was alright—pretty good but not great. Then I tried Terminal World , which was not great at all and lost my interest less than a hundred pages in. And then I read The Prefect , which really impressed me, making me think Terminal World was probably an aberration. I didn't know it at the time, but it turns out The Prefect also is set in the Revelation Space universe. Fortunately The Prefect is a completely self-contained story (not part of the Revelation Space trilogy), set in only one corner of Reynolds' fictional future universe, so I had no trouble understanding it. I wanted to mention The Prefect because of something I wrote in my review of that book, to wit:

"… The Prefect … has its subtleties and complexities [and] has some unique angles on classic sci-fi themes that I enjoyed immensely. But The Prefect is anything but frustrating to follow; it weaves many threads and then brings those threads together at the end, tying them up in a neat and satisfying conclusion that leaves no questions unanswered. This is an impressively well executed book, gratifying from beginning to end. And it was worth my time, which, ultimately, is one of the best compliments I can pay."

That is exactly how I feel about the storytelling in Revelation Space and I don't think I could say it any better now. It's just a darn good, solid, well executed work of hard sci-fi. The "Big Idea" itself isn't original (the idea of a powerful alien intelligence trying to wipe out other space-faring civilizations) but Reynolds' specific take on it is, and he gives us some very human characters and storylines to drive the underlying big plot forward.

Finally, I really appreciate that Revelation Space ends in a satisfying and self-contained way. Obviously the ending leaves open the possibility—even need—for a sequel, as I assume it was always his intention to write a trilogy. But one can still read Revelation Space by itself and feel satisfied. Of course, if you enjoyed it as much as I did, you'll want to pick up the sequel and get started straight away.
Profile Image for Olethros.
2,610 reviews419 followers
February 3, 2019
-A pesar de tener áreas de mejora, también tiene algo especial.-

Género. Ciencia ficción.

Lo que nos cuenta. En el libro Espacio revelación (publicación original: Revelation Space, 2000) el doctor Sylveste dirige una excavación en el planeta Resurgan, una que podría dar luz sobre los antiguos habitantes del planeta, pero una tormenta altera sus planes y arriesga su puesto al frente de la propia colonia. Ilia Volyova es una de las tres personas al frente de la gigantesca nave de combate Nostalgia por el Infinito y necesita dos cosas: un nuevo Oficial de Artillería y una solución a la Plaga de Fusión que ha afectado a muchas personas, entre ellas al Capitán de la nave. Ana Khouri es una antigua soldado de Borde del Firmamento que ahora trabaja como asesina dentro de la particular legalidad de su planeta y a la que alguien importante le propone un trabajo bastante complicado a cambio de una recompensa que Ana creía imposible obtener. Primer libro de la serie Espacio Revelación.

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Profile Image for Malice.
245 reviews29 followers
March 3, 2023
No sé ni por dónde empezar, me fascinan todos los temas que toca a lo largo de la historia, desde la colonización de la galaxia, otras civilizaciones, la tecnología, los viajes espaciales, hasta la evolución de la humanidad.
Sobre todo, me gustó que la historia fuera compleja, eso la hizo más interesante, incluso mucho más, porque al final, aunque tengo un montón de respuestas, todavía me queda mucha información por asimilar.
Fue una excelente lectura, pero creo que no la recomendaría para cualquier lector, incluso entre aquellos a los que les gusta la ciencia ficción.
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