mark monday's Reviews > Revelation Space

Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds
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i suppose you could call Alastair Reynolds the Bad Twin of Peter Hamilton. both write space operas that come complete with mind-boggling concepts, galaxy-spanning adventures, bizarre aliens, space politics, love stories, and eons-old mysteries. but Hamilton writes about a future that despite having its ups, downs, and various inequities, is mainly Bright & Shiny, full of possibility. on the other hand, Reynolds' interests arise from the basic idea that the universe is a cold, scary place, full of dead things and barely-understood terrors. Hamilton's characters run the gamut of loveable to outright villainous; Reynolds prefers to write mainly about self-absorbed killers and assholes. one writes about factions of humanity trying to come together to fight off threats; the other depicts humans turning on each other and how things fall apart. so i guess it depends on your perspective: do you want your space opera glass to be half-full or half-empty?

overall, i think this is a pretty good first novel. it is certainly an elephantine one; fortunately, the size didn't seem unecessary and i was aborbed by the ideas and narrative from beginning to end. Reynolds' background as a scientist is evident in spades, and i'm happy to report that my right-brained self didn't suffer at all when reading this - concepts were explained carefully and clearly, in a way that didn't make me feel particularly stupid and never felt didactic or condescending. characterization is certainly striking - if you are looking for characters that are charming or sympathetic or likeable, look away! you will not find that here. instead prepare to read about insanely arrogant scientists, vicious politicians, cold-blooded killers, and even more cold-blooded spaceship crews. it can get a bit oppresive at times.

there is an interesting theme that slowly rises up through the narrative: the obsessive-compulsive nature of humanity. this is depicted within a military mind-set that views all outsiders as potential threats and a scientific mind-set that views exploring even the most awful and potentially threatening of things as the only option. characters in this novel don't just live with their obsessions, they are defined by them. characters don't make decisions based on anything resembling empathy or humanism - they are compelled to continually repeat and expand upon their compulsions, no matter what the cost. it is certainly a dark perspective on the nature of mankind.

but that darkness, that oppressiveness, is really at the heart of this novel's appeal. the back cover quaintly describes this novel as "CyberGoth", which of course is a pretty stupid moniker... but it also makes some sense. imagine a gigantic spaceship crewed by five misanthropes, haunted by voices from outside of time, full of enslaved rats and unimaginably deadly weapons, captained by an unconscious individual whose plague symptoms include the transformation of all materials around him into a vaguely disgusting, tendril-y mess. imagine two planets: one whose decadent citizens while away the time playing assassination games and another whose berserk citizens seem to be engaging in relentlessly bloody revolution every couple years. imagine a culture where marriage includes a "wedding gun" that shoots dna of your spouse directly into your forehead. imagine a horrific version of the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, one where the unknowable enigma wants to kill you and all of your stupid little species. imagine Lovecraft in Space. there, now put that all together and you've imagined Revelation Space.
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Reading Progress

August 29, 2011 – Started Reading
August 29, 2011 – Shelved
Finished Reading
April 29, 2012 – Shelved as: scifi-modern

Comments Showing 1-50 of 58 (58 new)


message 1: by Bill (new)

Bill Great review Mark!


mark monday thanks Bill! i am looking forward to reading the rest of this series.


message 3: by Antiloquax (new) - added it

Antiloquax A brilliant review. I can see that I am going to be more a Reynolds fan than a Hamilton!


mark monday thanks Antiloquax!


message 5: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey Keeten Great Review Mark. I have a couple of Reynolds in the queue for the near future. Sometimes he just fills the need.


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Back to the Books) An excellent review, Mark.


mark monday thanks Jeffrey & LD. looking forward to reading your review Jeffrey.


message 8: by Aloha (new) - added it

Aloha Okay, Mark. I went back to the book from the beginning in audio. I can see how great the SciFi world building is.


mark monday i'm glad you're giving this one another shot Aloha! maybe second time's the charm.


message 10: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian This review kicks ass. As does the book.


message 11: by mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

mark monday thanks Ian! i'm really looking forward to Redemption Ark and more of Reynolds.


Jason This is a really great review, Mark! I started listening to this on my ipod today and thought I'd catch up on some reviews. Your review makes me even more excited to read this.


message 13: by mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

mark monday well thanks a lot Jason. it's an interesting and very enjoyable book (for the patient reader), one that grows even better in the memory. i'm surprised i didn't give this one 4 stars and i can't remember why. maybe i found the darkness too oppressive or two-dimensional. hard to say; i'm sure i had my reasons but i wish i could recall exactly!


message 14: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian The darkness was oppressive, yes, but definately not two-dimensional. The Revalation Space universe is sci-fi noir at its best.


message 15: by mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

mark monday must be the oppressiveness then. i also should make clear that i give 3 stars to books that i genuinely liked. i think this is a little out of step with most other GR reviewers, but i truly look at 3 stars as "I Liked It".


message 16: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian I totally agree with your rating philosophy. I've given three stars to books that I fully intend to read again. Recently I went through my ratings and reduced several from five to four, or from four to three, because I was afraid my average rating was too high. I have an issue with people whose average rating is 4.5 or higher, which is a lot of GRers.


message 17: by mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

mark monday this is good to know. i'm so used to folks giving 3 stars to books they didn't enjoy that that is often my automatic assumption when reading a 3-starred review. i've moved beyond annoyance to a kind of resigned, eye-rolling acceptance.


message 18: by Ben (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ben Oats I'm just about to finish the evolutionary void by Hamilton and can't wait to start on revelation space looking forward to it great review mate!


message 19: by mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

mark monday thanks Ben! although honestly i'm not sure how much you'll like this. this novel is almost the anti-Hamilton. but i like both authors, so who knows. good luck!


Cecily I guess I should be embarrassed that I've read and enjoyed half a dozen Reynolds, but not heard of Hamilton. One for me to investigate, no doubt.


message 21: by mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

mark monday honestly Cecily, i'm not sure you'd enjoy Hamilton... but i'm very curious as to your reaction after reading him.


Cecily Is he less like Reynolds than I inferred? And if not, do you have any suggestion as to which might be a good one to sample?


message 23: by mark (last edited Aug 15, 2012 08:44AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

mark monday he lacks the goth appeal of Reynolds. i'm not quite familiar with your tastes yet, but i mainly have your admiration for Gormenghast & Iris Murdoch in my mind, and i see a greater connection between Reynolds and those two then i do with Hamilton. his characters are equally two-dimensional to Reynolds (with a notable exception here and there, as with Reynolds), but they are two-dimensional in a way that is familiar to lovers of space opera, while Reynold's two-dimensional characters are drawn more from the horror tradition.

if i were to recommend a Hamilton for you, it would probably be The Reality Dysfunction, which uses tropes from the horror genre to interesting effect. overall that series is a splendid and only occasionally eye-rolling space opera. rather exciting, some choice world-building, and a lot of fun to read. i really enjoyed it. give it a go!


message 24: by Cecily (last edited Aug 15, 2012 11:33AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cecily Goth and horror? Have I missed the point of Reynolds?! I've read five of them, and I can't say those themes have ever been very noticeable to me; in fact, I would go so far as to say I don't like horror and don't really know what goth fiction is (unless you mean gothic, in which case, I understand the term, but don't really see it in Reynolds). The upshot of which is that I'm now really intrigued by Hamilton, and think I should perhaps read another Reynolds!

Peake and Murdoch are perhaps red herrings: I love them, but for very different reasons that I've enjoyed Reynolds.


Guillermo  If they ever made this into a movie or tv series (nerdgasm), I could imagine H.R. Giger designing the interior of the Nostalgia for Infinity.


message 26: by mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

mark monday he would be perfect.


David I liked your review and it's take on Reynolds, but I'm in Cecily's camp...I've read all of Reynolds Revelation Space series, and while I see the "cold equations" theme on a galactic scale, I saw much more. In another 'world' I inhabit we reference PATs and NATs for people who are Positive All the Time or Negative All the Time. We also refer to "realistics." If I were to classify authors this way, I'd call Reynolds more realistic than negative. Look at all parts of human culture today. He's definitely not pollyannish, but he often finds the good in the most dire situations as well as the dark gray linings in the most silver of clouds. I was introduced to Reynolds by a novella set on earth in a more near future in which a jazz saxophonist turned sleuth uncovers the existence of extraterrestrials while solving a murder. This was a lyrical, positive story, and cast my view of Reynolds differently. That all said, I do have a haunting memory of a truly twisted, torturous soulless doctor who shows up in a number of Reynolds novels and short stories. In the end, that character seems punished, and so while not optimistic, it does contain a measure of justice. Reminds me of the mass murderer from the 1892 Worlds Fair I read about in a non-fiction book about five years ago. If Reynolds' vision is more comprehensive, you cannot write that off as negative, but perhaps it does seem cold and depressing to readers looking for pure entertainment.


Frederico Araujo But isn't it true that humanity is always fighting and killing each other? This books is not far from the reality as of fact.


message 29: by mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

mark monday David wrote: "I liked your review and it's take on Reynolds, but I'm in Cecily's camp...I've read all of Reynolds Revelation Space series, and while I see the "cold equations" theme on a galactic scale, I saw mu..."

sorry for just now noticing your comment David and not responding! thanks for your thoughts.

it is really, really hard for me to see Reynold as "realistic" rather than "negative". don't get me wrong, i enjoyed the book, its sequel, and i plan on continuing the series (my 3 stars genuinely means i liked it). but the author seems to go out of his way to make all of his characters sociopathic, misanthropic, and/or callously brutal. i guess i just don't see all humans that way. i'm far from a pollyana but when a perspective is one that seems based in showing the worst flaws of humanity, i can't help but see that as a negative perspective. i do appreciate it because of my own occasional misanthropic tendencies... but i think it is a slanted world view.

Frederico wrote: "But isn't it true that humanity is always fighting and killing each other? This books is not far from the reality as of fact."

well definitely. but the book shows very little of the good that humanity is capable of either. i look at something like A Song of Ice & Fire and i see war, brutality, callousness, etc, etc... but i also see characters striving to do the right thing, to be better, to relate to others in a positive way. i don't see that in Revelation Space.

but in the end, that doesn't particularly mattter to me, i still enjoyed the book and Reynold's cynical & misanthropic perspective was fascinating.


message 30: by Frederico (last edited Jun 06, 2013 02:55AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Frederico Araujo mark wrote: "David wrote: "I liked your review and it's take on Reynolds, but I'm in Cecily's camp...I've read all of Reynolds Revelation Space series, and while I see the "cold equations" theme on a galactic s..."

Mark, yes, it's true very little good that humanity is capable of is on the first book. I dont know if you read the the 2nd or 3rd book, but things start to change on the 2nd and 3rd, I see more of the good starting to surface, even people changing from brutal criminals to something near heroes... well, enough, I don't want to spoil it.


message 31: by mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

mark monday i enjoyed the 2nd book. definitely noticed a change in perspective in that one - the characters were less overwhelmingly misanthropic. i'm looking forward to the 3rd book!


Cecily Keep going! (I found the third one to be less impressive than its predecessors, but I stuck with it, and was very glad I did.)


message 33: by mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

mark monday will do!


MrsJoseph *grouchy*
Reynolds' interests arise from the basic idea that the universe is a cold, scary place, full of dead things and barely-understood terrors. Hamilton's characters run the gamut of loveable to outright villainous; Reynolds prefers to write mainly about self-absorbed killers and assholes. one writes about factions of humanity trying to come together to fight off threats; the other depicts humans turning on each other and how things fall apart. so i guess it depends on your perspective: do you want your space opera glass to be half-full or half-empty?


SNIP

but that darkness, that oppressiveness, is really at the heart of this novel's appeal. the back cover quaintly describes this novel as "CyberGoth", which of course is a pretty stupid moniker... but it also makes some sense. imagine a gigantic spaceship crewed by five misanthropes, haunted by voices from outside of time, full of enslaved rats and unimaginably deadly weapons, captained by an unconscious individual whose plague symptoms include the transformation of all materials around him into a vaguely disgusting, tendril-y mess. imagine two planets: one whose decadent citizens while away the time playing assassination games and another whose berserk citizens seem to be engaging in relentlessly bloody revolution every couple years. imagine a culture where marriage includes a "wedding gun" that shoots dna of your spouse directly into your forehead. imagine a horrific version of the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, one where the unknowable enigma wants to kill you and all of your stupid little species. imagine Lovecraft in Space. there, now put that all together and you've imagined Revelation Space.


Currently reading this as part of a group read...and I admit I am struggling:

1) I prefer fantasy to SciFi
2) I'm not good with the hard science here
3) I avoid overly dark/sad/depressing/oppressive reads. I read a lot of News and prefer to get my escapism on with fiction.


I think you may have convinced me to put this down and move to something else.


message 35: by mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

mark monday from what I know of your tastes, I definitely agree with your self-assessment. I think some scifi may be up your alley, but I don't think this series will give you much pleasure. why even bother when there are plenty of other things out there that you will actually enjoy.


MrsJoseph *grouchy* Truth. But I'm glad you enjoyed it and I loved your review.


message 37: by mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

mark monday glad you enjoyed it! I really need to get around to finishing this trilogy.


message 38: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim Killer review!


message 39: by mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

mark monday thanks Jim!


Shady12 Good review, but five stars from me! My favorite sci-fi "universe."


message 41: by Lyn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lyn I'm finishing now, great review


message 42: by mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

mark monday for some reason I don't recall getting a notification for these comments. anyway, thanks Lyn & Shady!


William got through all of hamiltons space operas and in desperate need of more - trying to research other books came across this one and you're epic review! I prob will try this but appreciate it glass half empty stance. Can you recommend any other operas similar and as good if not better than the nights dawn and the commonwealth/void/chronicle of the fallers please? Thanks in advance!


message 44: by mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

mark monday happy to oblige!

unfortunately I haven't read many books that have the scope and bigness of Hamilton's and Reynold's space operas. I loved the modern classics written by Vernor Vinge (Zones of Thought series) and David Brin (Uplift Saga).

Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga is another favorite, although it is a much smaller and quieter series. no big concepts, but overall a lot of (thoughtful) fun and some great characterization.

my favorite is probably Iain Bank's The Culture series.


message 45: by Airaze (new)

Airaze EDM This review was so insightful I think I could see into the next dimension after reading that


message 46: by mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

mark monday well thank you, Airaze! glad you enjoyed it.


Russell Kirkby Hamilton also includes frikkin ghosts and destroys and otherwise great universe with dumb shit.


message 48: by mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

mark monday I liked the ghosts, and the horror of that series. but yeah sometimes those ghosts led to dumb shit. especially the Al Capone ghost. and some of those ghosts led to humanistic moments, something that I imagine Reynolds would never allow to happen, if he were to allow ghosts. although in a way he did - at least in terms of ghosts of alien civilizations.


odedo1 I was new to space operas and I came back to your comment to really thank you for introducing me to Peter Hamilton.
Now that I've read many books from both Alastair and Peter, I can only hope to find more great minds like theirs and recommendations will be appropriate.
Once again I thank you!!!


message 50: by mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

mark monday 'tis my pleasure!

it's odd, I rarely give either Hamilton or Reynolds more than 3 stars (although that is a good rating for me) but I like them both so much that I plan to read everything they've written. I've just finished Hamilton's sole standalone novel, Fallen Dragon and enjoyed it a lot, despite its many flaws. fun!


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