Alastair Reynolds,
Revelation Space
(Victor Gollancz, 2000; Ace, 2002)

Alistair Reynolds' first novel, Revelation Space, is a stunning epic of a journey through the outer realms of space and the hitherto unknown reaches of the imagination that coalesce into science fiction. One is uncertain whether he is describing a galactic history so ancient it eludes comprehension, or a far future, filled with dangers that threaten to engulf and obliterate all that mankind has achieved throughout its evolution.

Reynolds opens on a small-enough scale: a schism between archaeological scientists during the onset of a violent storm that threatens to destroy all they have laboured to uncover about a long-dead race. There are remarkably few players on his stage, but that stage expands from a puzzling dig-site on a dead dust-ball planet to encompass the far reaches of the galaxy itself, spanning light-years, vast distances and eons of time to compress them into the comparative flicker of light from a distant star.

He maintains an admirable pressure on the reader to delve further into the mysteries he presents, but he himself is in no hurry to unfold the answers. Layer upon layer, the intrigue builds, especially concerning the enigmatic central character, Dan Sylveste. The data is processed by the reader, but apart from one or two intuitive leaps -- the identity of certain mysterious characters, for example -- I was led , in varying levels of bewilderment and fascination, page by page, like a child trying to recognise and fathom the intricacies of a super-computer. Reynolds does not patronise his readers, nor does he leave them so bored by technical information that the temptation to skip pages becomes more than the desire to discover the Why and the How of the tense and unpredictable drama he presents.

Within the cyborg crew of a vast spaceship, he abandons a human, a being with whom we readers can more easily identify than her captor and colleagues. A soldier with a troubled and obscure past and a hidden deadly agenda of her own, we are not even privy to all her secrets, although we understand her fears and moral dilemmas.

Reynolds' story is like a Russian doll -- just as one curiosity is explained and one element of confusion resolved, another pops up, seemingly smaller, but increasingly more detailed and complex. Then, "Tardis-like," the diverse problems magnify and the possible solutions become increasingly convoluted, like a supernova expanding resplendence. Suddenly, with all the predictablility of a star collapse, the whole fabric of what we believed we understood turns inward with a startling rapidity: revelation! Finally, an eerie and unforeseen light is shed on the apparently doomed and dwindling cast by the ultimate discovery. The discovery is still cloaked in mystery, its original purpose camouflaged from the interacting players and also from the reader.

The ending of the book is satisfying, and with eagle-eye hindsight, quite logical in an alien way. Yet sufficient doubts remain nibbling at one's mind; just as could happen in this bizarre and infinitely complex conclusion, not every question is answered and not everything is explained. It is perhaps enough that some phenomena exist, whether in the mind of an author or in reality, however far-fetched it can seem.

This is a phenomenal debut novel, delivering all that the reader dares to anticipate in superb style. One turns the final page with a sense of wonderment, compounded by loss -- one has been so much part of the action that its cessation feels like a physical shock. Revelation Space is aptly named.

- Rambles
written by Jenny Ivor
published 16 November 2002

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