A Rare Bit of Welsh SF

Sunday 14th September: No music for me this weekend (but that didn’t mean a weekend without going out – last night, Debbie and I went for a very nice Thai meal at York’s Siam House, as part of a friend’s birthday celebrations.) It does, however, mean that you get me waffling on about my current reads.

I had taken a few Alastair Reynolds books with me on holiday, intending to get a long way into his output while sitting by the pool. Unfortunately, it took me so long to finish the Starchild Trilogy that I only just managed to start his first novel. Nearly three weeks later and I’ve finished the first two.

Reynolds is a Welsh writer of space opera. He’s had short stories published since the early 1990’s and his first novel was published in 2000. He is also a trained scientist – a former research astronomer with the European Space Agency.

Revelation Space (2000)
Although Reynolds had already written about the Revelation Space universe in short stories, it remained unnamed until the publication of this novel. In it, Dan Sylveste, archaeologist is trying to determine what event caused the total destruction of the Amarantin on the planet Resurgam. At the same time, a group of Ultranauts aboard a lighthugger spaceship are heading towards Resurgam in the hopes that Sylveste can help them heal their captain, who has fallen victim to the Melding Plague. Also on board the ship is a cache of weapons, some of which are powerful enough to destroy worlds.

The Revelation Space universe is limited by the fact that faster than light travel is not possible, meaning that voyages between the various planets colonised by humans take years. In the main crews and passengers travel in reefersleep but those left behind age normally. Parts of the universe have also fallen foul of an alien plague of unknown origin. This plague corrupts technology, from the buildings of Chasm City on the planet Yellowstone to the nanomachines used by humans to achieve near immortality. The universe also, once, contained a multitude of different intelligences, but most of these have now vanished and it is the reason why that lies at the heart of the story.

There are so many ideas crammed into this novel that it is hard to do it justice in a short review. Vast spaceships, alien artifacts, nanotechnology, weapons (large and small) and different factions of humanity all vie for space in what is a complex book. I didn’t find it an easy read, but for different reasons that I sometimes struggle with older novels. It’s not the style of writing, nor the language used, it’s the sheer scope of the novel. Once I got properly into it, though, I found it hard to put down and, apart from the slightly bizarre ending, found it a very enjoyable read.

Chasm City (2001)
Chasm City is set before the events of Revelation Space, but is not a true sequel. It does feature the origins of a hunting game which one of the characters in the earlier novel is playing when first introduced and, indeed, I think that the character herself (unnamed in this novel) is seen briefly at the end of the story.

Tanner Mirabel is a security specialist who, after one assignment goes horribly wrong, travels to Chasm City to hunt down Argent Reivich. Arriving at the city, he finds it mutated by the Melding Plague, rather than the utopia he was expecting. Hunting Reivich through the city, he comes into contact with many of the strange factions of humans living there.

Or, rather, that is how the novel starts. By the end of it the origins of the Melding Plague have been revealed, identities have been turned on their heads and Mirabel’s dreams (both sleeping and waking) of Sky Haussman, founder of Sky’s Edge, Mirabel’s home world have been explained.

I found Chasm City to be an easier read than Revelation Space, despite it being full of mostly unlikable characters. Mystery is laid upon mystery and action sequence follows action sequence, making it a much livelier read. The main character, however, is the city itself. As Mirabel travels through the city, discovering its various locations and inhabitants, it seems to come to life.

Like the first novel, the ending is a little strange. In this case, however, it is more a case of having to work out who exactly is who by the novel’s end, rather than any sort of implausible ending.

So far, I’m enjoying exploring Reynolds’ universe and, with another four books of his in my to read pile, three of which are set within the Revelation Space, I hope to continue doing so.

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About Ian

Regular gig-goer in York, both to see local and touring bands. Huge music fan, with more CDs than my wife thinks any one person should own. I also collect American comics, read a lot of SF and fantasy and am a season-ticket holder at Leeds United.
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