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Revelation Space   by Alastair Reynolds

Read: 2012-05-20 Reviewed: 2012-05-26
Re-read factor:

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 are rivetting.

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.

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