Some of us have to get on with the business of being alive in the entropic universe.
When we look out to the stars, why does humanity seem so alone? Obviously the universe is not completely hostile to life. We are alive in it. But if the universe is habitable, then why have we not seen evidence of other life out there? Maybe we are the first planet to have life. Maybe the other civilizations are out there, but hiding behind shrouds of technology that we can not penetrate. Maybe they have all been destroyed in some great cataclysm. This idea is known as Fermi’s Paradox, and is one of the key themes of Alastair Reynolds’ book Revelation Space.
Revelation Space tells the story of three separate people living in the 2500’s during a period of human space colonization. One is an archaeologist who is trying to discover why a long dead alien civilization ceased to exist. Another is a contracted assassin trying to become reunited with her husband. Finally, there is a crew of cyborg astronauts on the gigantic ship Nostalgia for Infinity who are trying to find away to cure their captain of a plague. Through huge swaths of time and space, these people will come together to discover some of the greatest secrets of our universe.
I really enjoyed Revelation Space. I am a huge science fiction fan, and I especially like science fiction that does a good job building a world. When reading science fiction, I do not care so much about character development, but I want to feel like I am experiencing an complete and complex world. I like feeling like there are stories that could be told outside of the scope of the novel. Alastair Reynolds does an excellent job in creating a human future that feels real but also adventurous. The complex world building is one of the greatest strengths of Revelation Space. I felt completely immersed in within a few pages.
Reynolds also does a good job in making his future practical. In Revelation Space nobody uses faster than light travel, so everything has to be done at sublight speeds. Because of this, travel between planets takes years, and usually requires the crew to go into cryogenic sleep. This sort of detail makes the book feel real, and provides some interesting complications to the story, when characters miss each other on planets by more than a decade.
Revelation Space also includes a very pragmatic outlook on technology. I was especially interested in the description of the huge ship Nostalgia for Infinity. The ship travels close to the speed of light, but to give the crew comfortable gravity, only accelerates at a pace of 1 g, taking a year to get up to its optimal cruising speed. Because of the high velocity, the crew ages slower than the rest of the galaxy. Nostalgia for Infinity also uses what is known as a Conjoiner drive, which is manufactured by a branch of humanity dedicated to the artificial augmentation of their brains. Nobody besides Conjoiners can actually understand how they work, which is a welcome change from Star Wars and Star Trek where everybody seems to have a grasp on the mechanics of faster than light travel. These sort of details are what makes Revelation Space such a joy to read.
The story itself is also great. I really like my science fiction to be large in scope. I want to read about interstellar wars, ancient history and complex civilizations. Revelation Space delivers on all fronts. It is filled with huge ideas and thrilling ideas. I found myself as engaged in the fictional history of space-faring humanity as I get engaged in real history. Reynolds also does a good job dolling out answers and details over time. I appreciated that he gradually unfolded the mysteries of the book without just resorting to a huge info dump at the end.
After reading Revelation Space I find myself wanting to read the other books in the series, which is the best praise that I can give it. This was a great science fiction book, and will be a treat for anyone who likes their science fiction hard and complex and imagining what life may actually be like out there.