(Gollancz, £10.99, 567 pages, trade paperback; also available in
hardback priced £17.99; published 4 July 2002.)
Now, this is what I call space opera: huge ships exchanging
any number of ravening beams of destruction, implacable alien menaces,
doomsday weapons, plucky heroines and heroes fighting desperate odds.
Oh, yeah, this is the big time!
All of the familiar elements of Reynolds' fiction are here, from the
miraculous but corrupted and decaying technology to the once-glittering
but now rather rusty civilisations and the damaged individuals hoping
for some sort of redemption. Not to mention the various clades of humanity
still managing to survive, despite themselves.
Redemption Ark is set in the same universe as Revelation
Space and Chasm City but roughly half a century after. Thanks
to reefersleep, time dilation and nanotechnology, many of the characters
from these two books are still alive and well. Certainly the Inhibitors--lupine
machine intelligences that seem to have patrolled our galaxy since it
was young -- are very much 'alive' and well. So well, in fact, that
they're beginning to turn their glacial attention upon the human race
with a view to wiping us out, as they've wiped out all other intelligent
life for millions of years.
The Conjoiners, arguably the best (and certainly the most technologically
advanced) aspect of humanity, are now split over what to do about the
Inhibitor menace. Having secured their own existence by easily defeating
the other main human faction in a pointless war, they're now making
contingency plans to secure an even longer term future. But the old
warrior Clavain (whom some may remember from an earlier Reynolds story,
'Great Wall of Mars', in Spectrum
SF 1) is suspicious of the motives of Skade, the head of this project.
Why is there so much secrecy smothering the new Conjoiner technological
initiatives? Why, after a century's moratorium, has star-drive manufacture
now been restarted? And what is the Conjoiner Closed Council so terrified
of? (I'm not giving too much away when I say that it might be
Meanwhile, on the planet Resurgam -- Reynolds books always have more
than one seemingly-distinct thread in them -- where conclusive proof
of the existence of the Inhibitors was first discovered (in Revelation
Space), Ilia Volyova and Ana Khouri, late of the lighthugger 'Nostalgia
For Infinity', have been forced to change their own plans by the arrival
of the first wave of Inhibitors in the system. Fortunately, the Inhibitors
seem to be ignoring the regressive human colony -- or are they just
Redemption Ark is a great work of sf. We know Reynolds can write
intelligent stories and build depressingly believable future societies,
but now he seems to be getting the hang of writing realistic characters
too. Clavain, in particular, is a likeable, intelligent and complex
figure, but his opponent, Skade, is not simply a two-dimensional foil
either. Both of them are striving towards the same long-term goal --
it is mainly their methods that differ. Skade's drive towards her goals,
semi-exposed later in the book, eventually reveal her to be as much
a victim as anyone. Similarly, the reasoning behind the Inhibitor mission
-- rather oddly, given that every character who encounters them speaks
of their Lovecraftian evil -- is shown to be morally rather more complex
than, say, E.E. 'Doc' Smith would have allowed with his fearsome villains.
As with all of Reynolds' books, this is a long one. However, it doesn't
ever drag or feel padded out; rather it is exactly the right length.
The ending leaves you sated but ready for the next instalment. The end
of Redemption Ark is only the end of the first skirmish in the
war against the Inhibitors. I have the feeling that the best is very
much yet to come...
Review by Stuart Carter
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