Warwick's Reviews > Revelation Space

Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds
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it was ok
bookshelves: fiction, sci-fi

One day the world will be full of science fiction authors whose prose styles are as good as their imaginations. Yeah, there are a few. But on the evidence of this book, Alastair Reynolds isn't one of them.

What this novel does have going for it is a great theory of how the galaxy might look in 500 years' time. The picture painted here – of a lonely universe, full of space and mysteries and still limited by barriers like the speed of light – feels distinctly plausible and, presumably, owes a lot to Reynolds's day-job as a working astrophysicist.

There are other good points. Thanks Christ, here is a sci-fi author who writes good, strong women characters who are not just there to have a variety of unlikely futuristic sexual encounters. (...Although actually, thinking about it, one or two of those might not have gone amiss.)

The problem is that it's just not written all that well. The dialogue never strikes you as very realistic, and often consists of characters sitting around explaining chunks of the plot to each other. The narrative is pushed along in brief third-person sections, which stop and start apparently for no other reason than to engineer some dramatic tension, and which tend to finish on portentous one-line paragraphs like "But she was not quite fast enough."

Some sentences barely hold together. We are told strange things, such as when "Volyova dredged a clucking laugh from somewhere deep inside herself". Try visualising that if you can. And when Reynolds reaches for a suitably scientific metaphor, he has a way of bludgeoning the life out of it, with unintentionally comic effect.

Sylveste examined his own state of mind and found – it was the last thing he had expected – total calm. But it was like the calm that existed on the metallic hydrogen oceans of the gas giant planets further out from Pavonis – only maintained by crushing pressures from above and below.

I think that might be the worst paragraph I've read all year. It should be entered into some kind of competition.

Anyway, I don't want to put you off too much. It's fun, it's interesting, it's just not doing much to fight for sci-fi's place in literature. Revelation Space: it's funky, but it's clunky.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
December 20, 2012 – Shelved as: sci-fi
December 20, 2012 – Shelved as: fiction
December 20, 2012 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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Cecily I read Reynolds for the plots, rather than the characterisation or language.

I want to like the fact he often has strong female characters (often not the case in sci-fi), but in most cases, I wouldn't know they were female if he didn't spell it out.


Szplug It's the strangest thing, in that so often when I encounter a sample of an author's text—as per your second selection above—used to exhibit the wanting quality of the craft that composed it, I find myself thinking Hey, that's really not bad at all! I must be awfully easy to please...

Nice review though, Warwick. I'm mostly in agreement with your assessment, though I rounded-up my own three-and-a-half-star take and deemed Reynolds, on the whole, to wield a much more pleasing pen than was your experience.


Warwick Ha. I'm the opposite, I always think that the passage I loved in context suddenly looks really bare and awkward when I try to write it out in isolation.

I actually would like to go back to Reynolds though. Like a lot of scifi authors, I really like him in theory – the big ideas and so on – but the prose style just got in the way for me.


Szplug Actually, I came upon your review because I've been tossing about the idea of having at Redemption Ark, the follow-up to Revelation Space which one of my favourite reviewers herein enticingly described as bettering the original in its deep space devilry and ancient alien awesomeness. What's more, it appears that Ilia Volyova—IMO, the strongest [if typically inconsistent] character from the opener—not only makes a return appearance, but has had her kick-ass self promoted to the starring role.


Andrew Obrigewitsch Yes, this book had great ideas, but that was it.


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