For someone who claims to be a lover of science fiction writing it seems mighty strange that it has taken me this long to discover the literary brilliance of Welsh author Alastair Reynolds. Part of the problem is undoubtedly a long held prejudice, fostered primarily by the Potter novels, that anyone who needs more than 400 pages to tell a story isn’t a particularly good writer. Part of it is also a time element in that committing to reading lengthy novels feels like a luxurious investment in the course of a busy week. I purchased this novel quite some time ago but had put it off and put it off until I finally took the plunge and started reading.
Doubtless the phrase ‘page turner’ is frequently over-used, but Revelation Space is such a finely crafted and exquisitely written novel that from the beginning you find yourself drawn in and completely immersed in the characters and story. Reynolds has that rare ability to quickly make you care about the people involved in the complexities of the plot and to get caught up in the unravelling mystery which lies at the heart of the book. It is no coincidence in light of this that you find yourself simply unable to ‘let it go’. Once started, my levels of inquisitiveness could not resist returning to it frequently throughout each day: just one more chapter! Page turner indeed.
What rings true of this novel is that despite being a fairly significant work of science fiction, it is precisely the hard core blend of science and fiction which makes it work so well. Reynolds background as a space scientist is put to excellent use in the way the universe he creates works. It feels real, solid and life-like. It is our universe, set in 2551 and not some mystical world from a parallel universe where the laws of physics somehow don’t apply. The science underpinning the plot is frighteningly accurate and lends the story a hard edged realism.
Built on top of it are three immensely rich and detailed characters – Dan Sylveste, Volyova and Ana Khouri. Their respective story-lines weave the narrative of the book, eventually converging to form a thrilling as well as coldly chilling, conclusion. There is genuine horror built into the very fabric of this book, built on believability, plausibility and a conviction that human nature will never change. Revelation Space presents a vision of the future which is sobering yet fascinating in equal measure. Written with perception, insight and finesse, it is a thoroughly enjoyable and consuming read. Highly recommended.