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Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds
*1/2 out of *****
ARTICLE INFOIt's difficult to describe what Revelation Space is actually about, without giving away the entire plot. Perhaps that's the reason behind why the novel didn't actually have much of a plot until right before the end. The blurb on the back cover talks in broad strokes about the general introductory plot, and that's about it.
Revelation Space - Alastair Reynolds
added 2002 october 05 by Lal
I'll say it straight out - I didn't like this book much at all. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't good. When I first started it, there were three confusing plot-threads that used referring continually to tantalising past events which were never revealed properly and seemed intent on annoying the reader. It's only a while later that you see how the threads fit together, and at that point you wonder why Reynolds bothered with his pointless introductions, if you could call them introductions.
I suppose there was one good thread, about an archaeologist on a distant planet, but Reynolds managed to savage this by veering the plot completely off-course and ending a very interesting dynamic that the archaeologist had with an enemy of his. In fact, in reflection, the entire first few hundred pages of the archaeologist plotline was a waste of time.
Reynolds writes short stories - he's good at thinking up very neat ideas, which he does in this novel, but they seemed strung together. This is his first full length novel, and it shows. I got the idea that he was trying far too hard to make a 'grown-up' science fiction novel with plot twists, complex characters and galaxy-spanning events. Instead, he ended up with a mish-mash of utterly boring and detestable characters, a convoluted and obtuse plot as well as far too much padding.
He also has an intensely irritating habit of keeping facts away from the reader. About halfway through the novel, it becomes clear that at least one of the characters knows exactly what is going on and how everything fits together. A while later, someone else figures it out, and then tells yet another person. A typical scene would go something like this:
Khouri listened attentively to the story and her eyes widened. Now she knew the terrible truth about the Inhibitors and what must be done to stop Sylveste.
And then the story would move onto the next chapter. This happened at least half a dozen times and towards the end of the novel, pretty much everyone in the story apart from the reader knew what was going on. Pissed me off no end, and made me want to hurl the damn book out of the window.
(And if you were wondering, yes, the truth behind the Inhibitors is extremely unfulfilling. Oh, did I spoil it for you? Well, count yourself lucky because at least you won't have the high hopes that I had).
In many respects, Reynolds is trying to write a Vernor Vinge type of story - grand space opera with never-told secrets and extremely interesting technology. Vinge however beats Reynolds into the ground, since you actually care about Vinge's characters and he doesn't keep any secrets from the reader (at least not for long at all). In fact, one of the characters in A Deepness in the Sky has a huge secret - which Vinge tells us right at the start of the novel. This gives the reader a great deal of pleasure in seeing how he conceals it, and the character's back story.
Strangely enough, Revelation Space has received good reviews from places like Infinity Plus. As Reynolds is a well respected short SF writer, I think there's no small amount of bias going into these reviews, and even they agree with some of the complaints that I have (while playing them down, of course).
I suppose if you have a lot of patience you might enjoy Revelation Space more than I did, but the simple fact is that there are many SF novels out there that are more worthy of your attention. If Alastair Reynolds hires a new editor who'll advise him to cut out the crap and make things better for the reader then it's very likely he'll become a good novelist.