Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen ! Bonsoir Mesdames et Messieurs ! Welcome, or welcome back on board of I.S.S. Rover. it is a chilling winter night here in Allgäu Bavaria: its -6°C out there, snowing, and the wind is blowing – nothing special about the weather. But I finally embarked on the search for the new voice that could fill the void left by the late Iain M. Banks. The first voice I will be checking out as I mentioned already in one of earlier posts is that of Alastair Reynolds. For this purpose I procured his novel Revelation Space.
But before I dipped into the book I wanted to have an impression of what is to be expected. And I did find his short story written the same year as Revelation Space: Merlin´s Gun for free in Amazon´s Kindle store. So I read it. And I must say that what I found was amazing: a voice that fills me with hope, with the feeling that he might meet the expectations I have of the “successor” to the “successor of Ray Bradbury” as I might have called Banks once, or twice.
It is a story of a journey, a search for an item shrouded in legends, the journey itself and its undertaker also turning into a legend during the process. And the legend is met by a “common person” just to shape the legend into reality again. And this all is hapening against a backdrop of a galactic conflic spanning for several millenia, reminding me of Joe Haldeman´s The Forever War.
The storytelling is superb, focusing on personal matters. Technology is masterfully introduced and described in the short space available, and the space opera elements are plausibly intertvined with real theories from current scientific researches in the fields of physics, which is hardly surprising knowing that Reynolds earlier worked for European Space Agency – aka he is a “real” scientist. So yes, his style has a hard science-fiction feel to it to, which I find delightful. And now lets see the Revelation Space.
And here we are. It took me about a week to read the book, and about another week to get myself to write about it. I have something that might be called a bad habit: my focus tends to jump away as soon as I´m finished with a “thing”. Sometimes I do manage to foce myself to keep focus on the actual item, but now that I´m working, the shifting workhours make it harder to stay focused. Anyway, enough talk, lets see what we have here.
The first few chapters are confusing: there is quite much jumping around in time, quite a few characters are introduced and one s not sure which one´s wil be important, or which are there just to be killed. We have Dan Sylveste a renowned (?) archeologist, who is researching a long time dead alien culture, the Amarantin. Then we have Khouri, an ex soldier turned assassin hired to kill Dan – and hired by someone who seems to hold a pretty big grudge against Sylveste – and we are still not over the introductions as there is a crew of an interstellar vessel that is also looking for Sylveste.And then we still didn´t even scratch the surface of what is going on here.
There are several different mysteries that build the whole thing, and the narrative reminds me of a challenging puzzle. First you try to sort out the edge pieces, to have the boundaries, which will in the end enable you to put all the pieces together, and have the big picture; then you start putting together smaller, but seemingly important pieces of picture and more or less put them in their place and start searching for the puzzle pieces that connect all these parts of the big picture. And I must admit that I enjoyed this “game”, how Reynolds built up his narrative. And there is an other quality to Reynolds´ storytelling: it´s that as more and more puzzlepieces were placed some earlier informations meaning started changing. It was kind of a feeling like when you are solving a mathematical problem, and use the different transformational equatins etc. The story itself was also transforming like the formulas, or maybe you can compare it to biological evolution. Scientific methods in storytelling: intrigueing.
It´s a story with multiple angles: you can read it as history of an intergalactic conflict, as an account of an intrigueing scientific research, but also as a polithical thriller of relations between different factions of Humans, or a coctail of all this. And it´s a masterful piece of work, but not without some smaller flaws.
Lets start with the flaws. I mentioned that there are different factions to humanity. Demarchists, Conjoiners, Ultras just to mention a few. And although more and more information is revealed about them, these divisions seem superficial, and sometimes even unexplained. For example we get to know that the Ultras have cast aside their biological roots, and have modified themselves, as biologically as in other ways, but so have the Conjoiners, and yet they are a whole different faction due to the virtue that it seems it´s only them who can, and are willing to build engines that are capable to propell ships from one solar system to another. And the Demarchists, well they are mentioned, but nothing is said about them, I had to look up in the internet that the word is coined from the phrase: democratic-anarchy. For the matter of fact what this phrase means, and what socio-political implications it does carry is insignificant for the story on hand, but than why mention it ?
Then again these factions did remind me of Banks´ Against the Dark Background. And not only of that book, but other elements reminded me of Use of Weapons - which is my favourite Culture novel – and also Look to Windward, and not only that, but it also reminds me of the world of a computer game: Battle Isle, of which I have fond memories.
And then even though the humanity has come a long way the world has a feel of decay to it, kind of a post apocalyptic, post cyberpunk setting. The conjoiners don´t build anymore engines that can propell ships from one system to another, which makes the existing ships even more valuable, and those tend to be in hands of militaristically minded persons/groups. And of course you can´t escape the legacy of an age old galactic conflict which is n the heart of all mysteries that the book presents to us.
There is much to digest: ideas, hystorical context, conflict etc. But there is not much actually revealed, there is place to evolve the universe. In the end this book focuses on problems of attaining eternal life, survival against the odds etc. We have the Ultras who modify themselves and spend most of their time travelling between different solar systems which partly takes them out of the world of “normal” humans, they live inanother timescale. We have the planet dwellers who did manage to prolong their natural lives thanks to different medical technologies and therapies. And there are those people who chose the immortality through copying their minds/consciousnes into computers. And this last group is the one that provides something of a happy end to the story of some characters, But there are still others left roaming the world, and with it foreshadowed that their story is far from the end, and that we will meet them again.
And I am looking forvard to it, as I enjoyed this romp and stomp. There was archeology, galactic conflict, conspiracy, philosophy etc. And even though it has been a week since I put down the book I must admit that I have found the successor to Iain M Banks. To which many will say that it´s a premature conclusion, especially that there are other contenders for the title, and they haven´t been checked yet. They certainly are right for that oppinion, and usually I would agree with them, but now my guts say otherwise.
The style, the structure of the storytelling is so similar: beginning to circle around the point so far out and revealing only a small detail at a moment; and not to mention that some of these details are red herrings, and yet still lead you in the right direction. And there is also the choice of themes, they seem to be of the same sort, same quality. The only actual difference is that Reynolds uses more of the actual results of contemporary scientific researches, but that is understandable, if one knows his background ( coming from a scientific carrier over to a literary one ).
And I also have the feeling that Banks and Reynolds might have inspired each other as some of the thougths, ideas even if only glimpsed in Revelation Space seem to me to return to haunt us in Banks´ Surface Detail.
And thats it. I declare to have a winner for the title of “Spiritual Successor of Iain M. Banks”. But that doesn´t mean that the search is called off. Especially not now that yet another player has been found, that was not on my radar earlier. I am talknig about Neal Asher, whose Polity universe was unknown to me before read this excerpt of his recently published new novel, Dark Intelligence. It strikes me that there we also have a mainly human society/culture ruled by AIs, which is a striking “coincidence”. And that peaked my interest. But I am also somewhat weary, as the tone seems to be more action oriented, something like Richard Morgan´s Takeshi Kovacs stories, and those have been somewhat of a dissapointment, although the worldbuilding was nteresting enough.
So that´s all Folks ! Hope you enjoyed today´s excursion, and that you will be joining or next expedition as well. Till then have fun and take care ! Captain of I.S.S. Rover over and out !