Review: Redemption Ark

Once again, Alastair Reynolds cranks out a weighty tome in Redemption Ark (Part of the Revelation Space universe) that proves, at least to me, hard SciFi can be surprisingly entertaining.

Part of the problem with sticking directly to physics, as Alastair with his Ph.D. in Astronomy is likely to do, is that space travel is necessarily limited to current breakthroughs in physics, even when targeted hundreds or thousands of years in the future. It’s both refreshing to see slow acceleration of two or three Gs and all the problems that entails, and frustratingly annoying to read hundreds of pages of space-battle that effectively amounts to dodging obstacles for objective years of travel time.

In Redemption Ark, Nevil Clavain, a major contributor to the Conjoiner society, finally meets the Inhibitors and decides the Conjoiner plan to escape their notice seems unfair to the rest of humanity. He takes it upon himself to warn everyone else, and reclaim the Hell Class weapons Ilia Volyovna used to such great effect in Revelation Space. He figures the weapons can be copied and raised against the Inhibitors who’ve finally noticed Humanity spreading among the stars.

Again, the Mademoiselle proves her ability to manipulate the situation even from the grave, and I don’t believe we’ve seen the last of her. The technology stolen from her in Chasm City keeps her and the Shrouders relevant, a significantly dangerous risk that continues to subvert humanity’s own ability to avoid extinction. An interesting side note about the inertial suppression technology introduced here, is that it’s an ability that could become commonplace in fifty years with more refinement. Indeed, Alpha Level simulations evolve from a uniquely life-risking technique to a valid personality backup over the course of the series. Clearly humanity is on the cusp of greatness, but that makes us vulnerable.

Real stories happen in the gaps, the transitions between states. In Redemption Ark, the Conjoiners are what humanity could become, humanity has nearly discovered a technique to travel faster than light after centuries of plodding along, an alien threat wants to keep the Inhibitors occupied with humanity to save itself, and all of this is on the precipice of catastrophe. Mr. Reynolds isn’t spinning a tale, so much as he’s narrating an interesting historical point in humanity’s future, and he’s chosen well. A lot is going on here, and some of it is exceptionally subtle.

I can’t wait to see how it all comes out in Absolution Gap.