John Clark's Reviews > Revelation Space

Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds
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Aug 08, 10

Read from July 15 to August 03, 2010 — I own a copy

One of the differences between the genres of fantasy and science fiction is that fantasy asks its readers to discard their assumptions about the way the world works, whereas science fiction asks its readers to build on, and perhaps add to, those assumptions. In fantasy, the replacement assumptions are usually called magic, and fantasy authors use this new framework to build completely distinct worlds from ours. Do not be fooled; science fiction often imposes essentially magical elements, justified as the undiscovered or the incomprehensible, but because science fiction progresses from where we are now, we cannot escape, and the magic, once discovered, becomes mundane. It is an important distinction, because of its effect on the reader, but it is nonetheless amusing to see how both genres crave this novelty.

There are true wonders, and terrors, dispersed liberally throughout this story, but they are mere flavoring, never enough; the author, and his characters, constantly want more, and this is precisely where the book opens, and what provides its driving force. There is much that is familiar in this, and so even planted within such an exotic setting, we can still telepose ourselves into this shiny future. And when we do, we find out that ... but, well, that would be telling, and one of the great sources of fun in this book is the many layers of revelation (heh, yes, I did go there) that it peels back as it presses inexorably forward.

As with much science fiction, this book raises interesting questions of identity, awareness, life, discovery, and yes, even of the nature of civilization. I appreciate all of those, although the book doesn't actively consider any of these questions that it poses. There's a lot of action and intrigue, but it feels carefully scripted, in more ways than one. Even with such a dramatic plot, the book seems like a prologue for stories to come. Still, it is a promising prologue.
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