- Genre: science fiction
- Series: Revelation Space, book 2 or 3
- Pages: 694
- My Rating: 8.5/10
Humanity faces a threat from deep space so great that imminent extinction is a real possibility. One of our most advanced societies, the mentally augmented Conjoiners, take matters into their own hands and search for a lost cache of doomsday weapons. Those weapons are stored aboard the ship Nostalgia for Infinity, which is still circling around Resurgam and protected by its preserved Captain. The Conjoiner Clavain has his own ideas about responding to the threat, ideas that don’t match his Conjoiner society and the crew of Nostalgia for Infinity.
The generic cover illustrations of Alastair Reynolds’s novels totally misrepresent how rich his universes are. Redemption Ark is another opportunity for Reynolds to squeeze in a thousand futuristic ideas about interstellar travel, cybernetics and alien life. It is part of his Revelation Space series, a direct follow-up of the first novel. And these novels are written like slick, dark, hard science fiction. These are not entry-level SF novels, but complex, bleak puzzles for SF veterans who know how to keep up.
Redemption Ark introduces Clavain. An old man already, but in space where trips can take decades, a century can go by in a blink. He’s a Conjoiner with an augmented brain, in touch with all his fellow Conjoiners through artificial telepathy. In a way, he was present when the first Conjoiners appeared in history, and now that a great threat appears from deep space, he is asked to take the helm in an expedition to retrieve ancient weaponry.
Clavain is a much more sympathetic character than Dan Sylveste was from Revelation Space. Clavain has deep emotional ties to his friends and old loved ones. He’s pretty bad-ass too in an old-man kind of way. He is a very composed individual, very resilient with the perspective that comes with a few hundred years of life experience. He’s respectful and determined in everything he does. For an Alastair Reynolds character, he is well fleshed out.
While most action in the book takes place at high levels of authority or in secret meetings, there are also Antoinette Bax and Xavier Liu. They are regular errant runners with their own creaky ship. At first, their storyline slowed down the book, but as stories converge they start to play larger roles. Ilia Volyova and Ana Khouri are back, and now have to deal with Captain Brannigan, who has grown all over the ship Nostalgia for Infinity. In effect, merging with it, and now controlling the cache of superweapons. But he seems to have left humanity behind and acts like a traumatized kid that doesn’t want to deal with the outside world.
It’s not absolutely necessary to read the book Chasm City (2001), which was published before this one, but it might help to get up to speed with the story when Clavain reaches that same city. There is a sequence about two-thirds into the book that produces a strong feeling of what-the-hell? The whole book turns 180 degrees, infodumps rain down and multiple storylines converge. We meet a character that showed up in Chasm City too.
Continuing on that what-the-hell feeling, the pacing of the story is really uneven. Some parts go on for a long stretch of time. At other times, major important plot events are glanced over or skipped entirely. There are many events in the story, but the structure connecting them feels jumbled. Especially towards the end, it is like Reynolds suddenly realized that he needed to wrap up the story and stop expanding on everything that leads up to it. The ending feels rushed over, and the major conflicts of this novel do not feel concluded well. For that, we need the final book, Absolution Gap.
Still, this is one of Alastair Reynolds’s best novels. It’s a terrific expansion on the world that he introduced in Revelation Space, even though many elements of that novel do not find their way back in this one, like the Shrouders, Hades and the Pattern Jugglers. But the Conjoiners are cool to get to know, and the story in general is fascinating. I can’t give it the highest recommendation, but it is a must-read for hard space opera fans.