Short Attention Span Review™
Once again Alastair Reynolds projects a galaxy that is infinitely more complex when viewed beyond our home world of Earth. It's a galaxy sprinkled by constrained life and dead civilizations who answer to a form of life that bloomed from the ashes of a war that raged across the galaxy a billion years ago. As with all of Reynolds' novels, Redemption Ark is not for the casual fan of the genre. But for those who are looking for a complex world, populated with complex choices and technology, it's sure to satisfy most gothic space opera fans.
Before delving in to the Revelation Space universe I first suggest perusing the chronology and consider reading the books in order.
This is Part 6 in my series of reviews focusing on the Revelation Space future history books by Alastair Reynolds.
Redemption Ark by Alastair Reynolds
Redemption Ark is the middle novel in Alastair Reynolds’ sprawling Revelations Space Trilogy (a.k.a. The Inhibitor Trilogy). Despite that, I believe there is additional reading that needs to be completed up front if the reader wants to fully understand the back story of several of the main characters, as well as be fully immersed in this universe. This extra reading, and connections to previous stories, really isn’t apparent until one starts the journey through Redemption Ark. Here’s what I recommend you do:
- The novellas The Great Wall of Mars and Glacial should be read before the trilogy is started. If it’s too late for that, then they should be read between Revelation Space and Redemption Ark if possible. Both of these stories give background on how Clavain became a Conjoiner, his meeting with Galiana, and the origins of Felka.
- Chasm City should be read before the trilogy is started. If it’s too late for that, then it should be read between Revelation Space and Redemption Ark. Part of Redemption Ark takes place in Chasm City. Reading this book give you the background of Yellowstone and its city, as well as the origin of the character called ‘H.’
- See the Revelation Space Chronology page for more information.
The prelude of Redemption Ark starts ~40 years after the ending of Revelation Space, but the majority of the book takes place ~80 years after that novel. The story is divided into two settings that alternate back and forth until the conclusion:
- The Epsilon Eridani star system: The home of the planet Yellowstone and Chasm City, approximately 10.5 light years from Earth (First System). The Conjoiners have a mother nest hidden within an asteroid in this system. This part of the novel focuses on the Conjoiners Skade, Nevil Clavain, and Felka as they wrestle with how to respond to the discovery of the Inhibitors (a.k.a. wolves) that are beginning to enter colonized space. All of these characters are new to the trilogy, and were not a part of Revelation Space. A secondary plot line involves Antionette Bax and Xavier, cargo haulers around Yellowstone who accidentally get mixed up in a conflict that might determine the fate of all factions of humanity.
- The Delta Pavonis star system: The home of the planet Resurgem where much of Revelation Space occurs, approximately 20 light years from Earth. The Inhibitors have discovered the Delta Pavonis system due to Dan Sylveste previously activating the Cerberus device at the end of Revelation Space. The device acts as a beacon to alert the Inhibitors that properly sentient life has evolved in it locale. As the Inhibitors begin dismantling other worlds in the system to build a weapon of mass destruction, Ana Khouri and Ilia Volyova have been working undercover for years in an attempt to orchestrate an evacuation of the 200,000 colonists living on Resurgem. All the while Khouri and Ilia are still sitting on their cache of hell class weapons stowed safely away on their lighthugger Nostalgia for Infinity.
Reynolds’ favorite writing method is to carry forward several plot lines, often taking place in different times, and melding them together towards the end. Redemption Ark is certainly not an exception to this technique, and the novel ends in semi-cliffhanger fashion. So don’t think that you can just stop and assume how the trilogy comes to conclusion when you’ve turned the last page of Redemption Ark.
I feel Reynolds does a better job with characterization this time around compared to Revelation Space. The most interesting characters are Nevil Clavain who is portrayed as a Conjoiner who is uncharacteristically sympathetic to “normal” humans, while counterparts in his own faction believe humans to be expendable to the Inhibitors. Clavain takes actions to redeem his own violent past, and to redeem the Conjoiner faction as a whole. Clavain’s Conjoiner counterpart is Skade, a woman hellbent on returning Clavain to the fold and doling out revenge for the horrific wounds he inflicts on her. Both of them eventually want the same thing, but for different reasons, and will fight each other to death to gain it. They both want the hell class weapons held by Khouri and Volyova aboard their ship some 6.6 light years away in the Delta Pavonis system. The Inhibitors are showing themselves, and it’s time to fight back.
Ana Khouri returns as the human ex-soldier who is torn between trying to find her lost husband who is likely lost forever due to the decades it takes to travel between stars. She’s also trying to save Resurgem, and conflicted about falling in love with the colonist Thorn. Does she give up her past life, not just a memory as seen through decades of reefersleep and space travel? Or does she cling to hope that she might find her husband, though the journey might take her a hundred years to complete?
The lighthugger Nostalgia for Infinity is back as well, which was one of the most interesting parts of Revelation Space. Now the ship is sentient, having been integrated with and haunted by the persona of its former captain, John Brannigan. But the ship, I mean Brannigan, is suffering from deep seeded guilt due to past atrocities he’s committed. He’s also scarred by the physical and emotional trauma of integrating with the lighthugger due to the melding plague’s affects.
The entire theme of the book revolves around “redemption.” John Brannigan agreeing to help save the colonists on Resurgem. Nevil Clavain trying to save humanity while the Conjoiners want to abandon them to the wolves. Ilia Volyova willing to make sacrifices to atone past sins she committed in her Ultra past. And others I can’t go in to without introducing spoilers.
Reynolds becomes a bit long winded at some points, especially when explaining the theory behind the inertia suppression drives, which create bubbles in space within which the mass of an object is altered (reduced) allowing much higher g acceleration rates using the same energy consumption. This significantly reduced the travel times between stars. I like science sprinkled in with my fiction, but Reynolds almost goes overboard with the techno-jargon. I can tell he’s a kid in a candy store extrapolating his physics background to be something usable in his world. It’s admirable, but can make for extremely dry storytelling. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does the pace comes to a screeching halt. But when he puts aside the techno-babble or discussion of theoretical ship propulsion, we get a glimpse into the combat mechanics of what a war fought at close to the speed of light might look like. Very fascinating!
For the first time in the series we get to peak into the cold “minds” of the wolves, the Inhibitors. They’re logic driven, so of course they have a reason for culling life throughout the galaxy. They would rather call it “shepherding,” but it’s extinction by any other name, and Clavain is dead set on not rolling over and accepting extinction no matter the reasons. But the Inhibitors’ task is also one born of redemption . . . though they probably wouldn’t call it that. As victors of the Dawn War a billion years in the past, their ancestors were responsible for eradicating all sentient life from the galaxy. The Inhibitors remember this, and there’s a method to their madness in The Inhibitor Trilogy. Moreover, it’s Reynolds’ answer to the Fermi paradox. A cataclysmic event in the Milky Way is drawing nigh . . . in 3 billion years. The Inhibitors are forward thinkers!!
Once again Alastair Reynolds projects a galaxy that is infinitely more complex when viewed beyond our home world of Earth. It’s a galaxy sprinkled by constrained life and dead civilizations who answer to a form of life that bloomed from the ashes of a war that raged across the galaxy a billion years ago. Fight of flight instincts have kicked in for some factions of humanity, specifically the advanced Conjoiners who get a leg up on the rest of humanity. As with all of Reynolds’ novels, Redemption Ark is not for the casual fan of the genre. But for those who are looking for a complex world, populated with complex choices and technology, Redemption Ark is sure to satisfy most gothic space opera fans who have a penchant for hard science fiction.