Written by a former astrophysicist with a Ph.D. in Astronomy, Revelation Space is hard sci-fi at its finest. It’s a space opera that takes place hundreds of years in the future, where humanity has branched off into artificially-altered subspecies that still manage to co-exist… for the most part. Revelation Space follows a diverse group of humans as they venture to uncover secrets left behind by an ancient alien civilization.
From the get-go, author Alastair Reynolds inundates readers with barrages of technical science terms mixed with a little military jargon. Which is fine with me, being both a fan of hard sci-fi and a science enthusiast, naturally. This only became troublesome towards the middle of the book as the tendency for Reynolds to become overly descriptive made the read feel like trudging through mud at times. And towards the last quarter of the book, the pacing became so slow that it felt like a battle just to get to the end.
Reynolds also seemed to have trouble killing off some of the main characters, the majority of which weren’t even lovable to begin with. Situations that could’ve made for a surprising death always left the main characters unfazed. Towards the end of the book, it became obvious that these characters had pivotal plot-driving roles meant to reveal the “big idea” at the end. That’s not to say that some seemingly crucial characters didn’t start to die, but it mostly felt like Reynolds was just cleaning up and simplifying the plot in preparation for the end. And speaking of lovable characters, Volyova was the only character that I found to be slightly more than one-dimensional. Everyone else seemed like mindless pawns for driving the plot forward. Understandably, there is a certain story element that could justify this mindlessness, but it really can’t account for everyone.
Despite the overly-descriptive prose and non-lovable characters, Revelation Space was a nice mind-bender on more than a handful of occasions. I did appreciate the descriptions when it came to explaining the futuristic setting, technologies, and diverse subspecies of humans that made up this universe. Coming from the scientific field that he came from, it seems as though Reynolds’ strength is in imagining future-scapes rather than character development. For this reason, I was able to excuse moments of flat dialogue and rigid character behavior for the mental stimulation that his ideas afforded.
Also, the world-building was just the right amount of scope that it didn’t lose me in seemingly useless details, as is the case with the level of world-building that, say, George R.R. Martin introduces with his A Song of Ice and Fire series. Moreover — since I’m comparing Reynolds to R.R. Martin for the moment — the latter at least did a much better job of making high amounts of descriptive prose entertaining to digest.
I will say that the ending was tantalizing enough to get me to want to read the sequels, although it’ll probably take some heavy motivation to potentially face another uphill battle with Reynold’s overly-descriptive writing. In the end, I’m just too curious to let go of this series after the first book. Hopefully Reynolds is able to expand the story more instead of starting fresh from the perspective of another set of characters in similar predicaments as in the first book. Not sure what to expect, but it’ll probably be some time before I’m willing to dredge through Redemption Ark.