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alastair reynolds

 
a primer 01:02

Alastair Reynolds' triumphant space opera is truly a must read for fans of epic science fiction. The world of 'Revelation Space' spans decades, yet the tale it tells is essentially an intimate one: the struggle of humanity against history. Between 'Revelation Space' and its sequels, 'Redemption Ark' and 'Absolution Gap', as well as the loosely related 'Chasm City', Reynolds unfolds a story of epic proportions, and a compelling story of the innermost nature of mankind.

Don't expect traditional science fiction. In fact, don't expect anything. Reynolds' storytelling is defined in the way it continually reinvents itself. His world is not one of pristine technology and social growth: The world of 'Revelation Space' is... dirty. In places it can only be described as a gothic nightmare laced with mind-numbing technology, and brought to life with Reynolds' evocative storytelling.

Humanity is puzzled. Considering the scope of the galaxy, the sheer number of stars, and the multitude of worlds - the galaxy should be a thriving place, teeming with life. The problem is, it's not. Stephen Baxter, in his excellent 'Manifold Series', addressed the same problem, and quoted Enrico Fermi: 'If they existed, they would be here'.

In the world of 'Revelation Space', only a handful of races have been discovered, far less than the diversity and scope of the galaxy would support. What has been discovered however, are the ruins of numerous civlizations, wiped out by inexplicable means, and on an unimaginable scale.

In the 26th century, humanity has reached for the stars. The laws of relativity remain inviolate, yet mankind has nevertheless spread throughout a multitude of systems at near-light speeds. One of these systems is the technologically advanced system of Yellowstone. At least, that's how it was once perceived. Yellowstone, and it's capital of Chasm City has succumbed to the Melding Plague - a mysterious affliction carried by technology which wreaks havoc on organic life. Yellowstone has been forced into an evolutionary dichotomy, still clinging to the vestiges of modern technology, while at the same time reaching back into the past. By and large, they have been forced into a stalemate with the marauding plague. Chasm City is a place of twisted technology, where the buildings themselves have mutated, sealing their occupants alive. The city has grown, and its human inhabitants have been forced to adapt, sometimes using archaic technologies to survive.

Nevertheless, life goes on. Humanity is fractured, a mix of diverging evolutionary factions. The Conjoiners for instance, have progressed towards a hive mind, sacrificing much of their individuality for a group consciousness. They've progressed quickly, producing the technology which drives mankind between the stars at speeds just under that of light. The Ultranauts are the sailors of these massive ships, eschewing natural organic progression for radical genetic and mechanical alterations. The Demarchists meanwhile, mantain the tradtional notion of humanity, yet are losing ground in the face of forced evolution. These are only the few of branches in the divergent humanity of the future, and their relationships are uneasy at best.

Dan Sylveste, a scion of a famous family, has no use for social trappings. His interest are in xenoarchaeology. On the hostile planet of Resurgam, he has discovered the remnants of an long dead alien race, the Amarantin, and evidence they were destroyed... intentionally. Soon however, petty politics overtake him, but not before Sylveste has embarked on a course that could save humanity, or mark them as the next targets on a doctrine of galactic cleansing.

Ilia Volyova is part of the ruling Triumvurate on the enormous lighthugger 'Nostalgia for Infinity'. Her tiny crew is in a desperate search to save their Captain, afflicted with a debilitatiing disease. The 'Nostalgia for Infinity' is vast, its kilometers-long hull filled with spaces untouched by humans for decades. Nevertheless, it harbours a terrible secret - the most destructive weapons ever created by mankind. Controlling them is a dangerous job in itself. Ilia's last gunnery officer went psychotic, his mind tearing apart as he learned the delicate mechanisms of the powerful weapons. He had to be put down - forcibly. Ilia is desperate for a new gunnery officer, and entering orbit around Yellowstone - it's possible she just might find one. There's one chance to save their captain, a genius known as Calvin Sylveste, and their quest to find them has brought them to Chasm City. Unfortunately, Calvin's long dead, and their only link to his surviving simulation is his son - Dan. Soon enough, the 'Nostalgia for Infinity' and its doomsday weapons will be aimed at Regursam.