Easily one of the best books I've read.
Massive pretext: universe has fewer civilizations than it should because there
has been a previous mega-war (we're talking millions of years ago), and
civilization inhibitor machines have been left behind. But a fragment of an old
civilization survived and now wants to find out if the inhibitors are still
functioning or fallen into disrepair, and uses humanity as a sacrificial probe.
So Dan Sylveste is an archaeologist of alien things and ruler of the small
settlement he establishes around a significant find he is excavating. Through
twists and turns he is ousted from power, imprisoned for ten years, kidnapped by
advanced aliens who need his father's expertise to heal their captain (his
father being a soul carried around in an amulet and loadable into Dan Sylveste's
head), escapes the alien ship in a suit, and pays a visit to one of these
inhibitor devices ostensibly to satiate his own curiosity but ultimately at the
behest of the historical aliens who want to know if the machinery still works.
The big picture is exposed right at the end in massive voice-of-god info-dumps
and some out-of-plot over-insightful dialogue, but in truth the closing pages
It is a hugely ambitious idea where the author aims to give the reader
sufficient epiphany that they experience their own Revelation Space, and the
author does in fact come very, very close to pulling it off.
While the true meaning of the book only becomes apparent in the last few tens of
pages, the other 95% provides a rich and engrossing back-story, and develops the
characters fully. I think that every aspect of the story is fully developed.
It revolves technologically around the idea that peoples' brains are able to
carry around more than one conciousness, and that conciousness is inherently
transportable (also to machine environments) and sustainable ad-infinitum.
There is slight techological over-convenience in suits which can fly limitlessly
from planet surfaces to extra-orbiting ships, have a mind of their own, are
practically indestructible and can morph into any functional form they like (why
doesn't everybody just copy their soul into one and exist beyond the need of
breatheable air?) I can only observe that it does actually serve the purpose of
keeping some mundane aspects of the plot to a minimum and allows the book to
flow, but it does seem a mis-fit given how well technology seems integrated with
the work, and at times is very over-convenient.