Alastair Reynolds,
Redemption Ark
(Gollancz, 2002; Ace, 2003)

I am trying desperately to forget Redemption Ark. I have been putting my mind to the task since I read the last page and let the book fall from my death grip. The sooner I can forget what I've read, the sooner I can go back and experience it again.

Redemption Ark happens in the same universe that witnessed the Melding Plague of Chasm City. Time has moved on, and at the outermost edges of human space, a destructive and very alien intelligence known as the Wolves has begun to dismantle the future hopes of all Earth's children. The only faction with the power and will to stand against them are the Spiders, a society of technologically altered humans who have managed to keep the machine-destroying Melding Plague away from their hives. Having gained telepathy, improved intelligence and strength, and near immortality through their upgrades, the Spiders have lost the trust of their fellow humans. The highly practical, scientific culture now finds itself depending on old legends about doomsday machines to halt the Wolves. At the same time, a small rebellion is underway on a planet that barely remembers the intergalactic culture that settled it, and a small courier pilot seems set to stir up war between the Spiders and their old enemies through a gesture of innocent affection.

For such a space-sprawling story, Redemption Ark has a wonderful economy of plot. Starting from a seemingly unrelated mass of small tales, Reynolds unites and condenses his subplots into one grand story without a line of unnecessary information or a chapter of extraneous plot. Even several potentially juicy scenes of conflict are cut in the service of the greater story's suspense, and this ability to focus on the larger story and spare just enough detail allows room for an epic novel that feels as compact as a short story. It also makes the story almost impossible to leave, as there are no lags in the action. The constantly accelerating pace creates an adrenaline charge easy to lose in the slow, open spaces of space epics. Every new scene and bit of information is intimately necessary to the tale, and once a reader learns to trust in Reynolds' tale spinning it becomes an adventure to guess how each new element will affect the final outcome.

That outcome would matter less if the population of Reynolds' galaxies weren't so vital and sympathetic. Every voice that finds its way into the story is as real and intimate as a long-time friend. That's not a surprising effect with the heroes of the story, who are given every chance to make themselves likeable. It is a shock to realize, when following the adventures of the spies, schemers and potential threats to humanity's survival, that they seem as fairly motivated and just in their actions as the less duplicitous characters. There are no real villains in Redemption Ark. It lives up to its title, with everyone trying to find salvation -- moral or physical -- in their own way. Wanting everyone to win, in situations where it's clear that some interests must be sacrificed, makes the drama far more tense. As sad as I was to see the book end, my nervous system was relieved.

Reynolds ends the story at the perfect point, and even manages to add an atmosphere of peace to the ending. But as with any thrilling experience, as soon as it was over I was hoping to go through it again. Unfortunately for my plot to reexperience Redemption Ark for the first time, it's not a book that's easily forgotten. I'll have to wait for Reynolds' next saga and be satisfied with memories of the journey past.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 28 February 2004

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