Galactic North represents a collection of novellas and short stories that take place in the Revelation Space universe.
Great Wall of Mars
If you are interested in how the Conjoiners came in to being, and the pseudo-philosophy behind their “Transenlightenment” Great Wall of Mars will be right up your alley. Specifically the story centers on Nevil Clavain, who is a prominent character in some of the Revelation Space works, and Galiana, one of the founders of the Conjoiners. The Conjoiners are besieged on Mars, living in a colony that is surrounded by an enormous living wall. Clavain travels down to the surface to negotiate and finds himself trapped when his brother orders an attack on the colony.
Galiana eventually modifies an injured Clavain, opening his mind to the Transenlightenment. He works with the Conjoiners to escape Mars and leave humanity behind. A nice setup story for the whole Conjoiner faction as well as the next story in the book.
If you don’t read the Revelation Space stories in chronological order, at a minimum you should read this story before reading Redemption Ark.
Years later Clavain and the Conjoiners are exploring an icy world that was populated with humans who set up research bases. Human DNA was transported to the planet by von Neumann machines (self replicating) that built a base then grew humans from the DNA. But when Clavain and gang discover and explore the planet they find that everyone is dead, and they appeared to have gone insane and murdered one another violently.
After this revelation it basically turns into a “who done it” plot with a fairly predictable resolution. The story is only really memorable because of the reason why all the humans were slain. The indigenous lifeforms are smarter than they appear.
A Spy In Europa
A Spy in Europa is a pretty stale espionage story that takes place under the ice of Europa where cities have been built. The description of these cities is really the only interesting aspect of this short story. Beyond that it is pretty forgettable. The writing style of this story is markedly different than most of Reynolds’s works. Chronologically I’m assuming it’s one of the first short stories he wrote, but I could be mistaken.
Centuries from now, solidarity stretches thin as humanity spreads past the solar system and to the nearest starts. Technology has produced wonderful new tools–but lethal risk will always accompany great advancement. Between the Demarchists and the Conjoiners, the basic right to expand human intelligence beyond its natural limits has become a war-worthy cause. Only vast lighthugger starships–manned by the panicky and paranoid Ultras–bind these squabbling colonists together. The rich get richer. And everyone tries not to think about the worrying number of extinct alien civilizations turning up on the outer reaches of settled space . . . because who’s to say that humanity won’t be next?
Inigo maintains the delicately balanced engines on the Petronel, an Ultra ship, which comes under attack from a pirate ship. . The pirates induce heavy damage on the Ultra vessel, but is itself destroyed by debris coming off the Petronel. Inigo searches the nearly destroyed pirate ship and discovers a Conjoiner was being held captive by, and mistreated by, the pirates. Her name is too complex for the Ultra crew to use, so Inigo calls her “Weather.” The gist of the story is that they must all overcome their prejudices in order to survive. The Ultras need the Conjoiner, and she needs the Ultras despite all the mutual distrust. The story is strong for it good characterization.
Uri is awakened prematurely from reefersleep (suspended animation) for an undisclosed emergency. He and his crew are transporting 900 rich, slumbering humans from the plague decrepit Chasm City back to the Solar system. Eventually the ship’s computer, which is a simulation of his wife, informs him that one of the crew (also in reefersleep) was infected by the Melding Plague before they departed Yellowstone/Chasm City and needs to be operated on immediately. He begins to see someone following him about the ship. Is someone else awake on the ship, or is he hallucinating?
Dilation Sleep is the first story that Alastair Reynolds ever sold, and it shows. The narrative is clumsy to the point that it’s a little hard to tell what actually happens at the end.
Grafenwalder lives on Yellowstone and is a collector of living curiosities which he keeps in his bestiary. It is a source of pride for him and his competitor, Ursula Goodglass. They are in a duel of curiosities and one upsmanship to gain the favor of friends and other wealthy Yellowstone citizens. But Grafenwalder is after one specimen in particular, the supposedly extinct Denizens. He finally secures what he thinks to be a true, live specimen only to be betrayed by Ursula and a monstrosity from the past thought to be long dead and forgotten. And you’ve met him before if you’ve read Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days.
The Nightingale is a hospital ship controlled by a gamma level persona (the closest an AI can be to a real human without granting it human rights). The ship was used during the war on Sky’s Edge to evacuate, treat, heal, and then ultimately return wounded soldiers to the fight back on the ground. But the ship has gone missing since the cease fire. A lawyer, who has located the Nightingale, hires three former soldiers to enter her in order to find the war criminal Colonel Brandon Jax, but the ship has a mind of her own. Nightingale is Reynolds’ take on a haunted house story, with some body horror thrown in. It’s a fitting addition to the Revelation Space universe.
In this longish short story Reynolds reveals the origins of the mysterious self replicating Greenfly that are systematically terraforming the planets of the galaxy like a plague, destroying humanity as it goes. But it’s also a chase that spans thousands of years and the galaxy . . . in fact the story ends in the void of space outside our galaxy.