i'm just going to copy and paste this from a group, because i'm lazy that way. okay maybe i'll edit it a little bit too. for kicks.
it was a good book overall, and i enjoyed it as much as its predecessor. lots of great concepts to digest and i'm still digging the basic idea behind the enemy threat of the Inhibitors. i also really liked reading about the Conjoiners, but then i'm a sucker for anything having to do with melding minds etc.
Reynolds still has his primary weakness: characterization. in the last book, his characters were one-dimensional and often Byronic or Apollonian or Nietzschean or whatever, with very little nuance or shades of gray, and just rather unappealing. in this book he is clearly trying harder. no one actually comes across as inhuman as they did in the last book. unfortunately i think his goals outstrip his talent at building real characters (at least in this book; i presume he's improved). he spends a lot of time trying to make his characters three-dimensional (some of it works; some of it is, frankly, rather amateurish)... but then by the last quarter, it is almost like he gives up because he needs the characters to do certain things so that the plot can go a certain way, and then it's back to the same dire unreasonableness that all of his characters displayed in the first book. there was a last-minute decision by Captain Brannigan/the Ship 'Nostalgia for Infinity' that was rather excruciatingly nonsensical. in retrospect, i sorta prefer the first novel's static depictions of ruthless id because then the weird characterization matches the weird concepts. it's so far in the future that humans aren't even human anymore - people are just all different types of hyper-enhanced uber-asshole genius-sociopath. makes sense to me!
ah well, can't win 'em all. the book is pretty successful in many other aspects. the goth appeal of the first novel is not as present - which makes it all a bit less distinctive - but that is more than made up for by an involving and often tensely exciting narrative of the multiple-strands-coming-together variety. the science is interesting (if a little repetitious). besides the character meltdown i mentioned, the description and persona of this gigantic haunted house of a freighter-spaceship Nostalgia for Infinity being horribly combined with depressed, formerly homicidal Capt Brannigan into a kind of organic Lovecraftian nightmare-ship, constantly growing external spikes and oozing dark fluids and basically looking like a Giger-inspired fever-dream... now that was a source of endless fascination for me. i'd like to take a vacation there! and the characterization isn't all bad all the time, for the most part it's actually okay. i really liked the lead (conflicted military commander Clavain). a key supporting character (a kind of hermetic savant named Felka) was a rather ingenious creation - and very sympathetic as well. the author did a great job setting up the motivations for the novel's villain (Skade) and watching her various permutations was interesting. overall there are a lot of bright & shiny things to look at in Redemption Ark, and i was happily distracted whenever i picked it up. well maybe not bright & shiny per se - it's more like a strange, corroded kid's toy made out of rusty knives and old tire irons by someone extremely intelligent and not too into kids.
i'm looking forward to the 3rd and last novel of the trilogy. Pattern Jugglers! the (presumable) return of messianic psychopath scientist Whatsisname. and more Conjoiners & Inhibitors!