Saturday, 26 October 2002

Alastair Reynolds: Redemption Ark (2002)

Edition: Gollancz, 2002
Review number: 1128

Redemption Ark is far more closely linked to Reynold's first novel, Revelation Space than is his second, even though all three are set in the same vision of the future. The actions of Sylveste in that novel have awakened an ancient horror in the galaxy; he has unknowingly made the signal that calls it to action. This is a culture of machines, which has the purpose of keeping intelligent life in check to guard against a future catastrophe. This is the reason that human explorers have found the galaxy full of the archaeological remains of extinct alien cultures, but none surviving. Sylveste has for the first time used a technology proving the existence of a new race of intelligent beings with an interstellar cultures, and this has made the Inhibitors swing into action once again.

There are others who notice the use of these tools, for they are doomsday weapons so fearful that not only have they never been used, but the technology used to create them was deliberately forgotten. They were made by the Conjoiners, a faction of humanity which has used mechanical aids to brain function to create a hive mind; and they want them back.

Being the third novel set in this universe, Redemption Ark lacks the "wow factor" experienced in reading the first two. It settles down a bit more to character, and in doing so reveals more definitely that Reynolds is from the same school as Iain Banks' Culture novels. There is more hard science (particularly nanotechnology) and less humour, but there are many similarities. The major difference, that Banks' novels are far less interconnected, imparts strengths and weaknesses to each writer's work. The ending of Redemption Ark really calls out for a sequel; it is nothing like as definite as those of Revelation Space and Chasm City. More additions to this series are, I hope, inevitable. Reynolds is one of the finds of twenty-first century science fiction, amply confirming the promise of his debut.

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