“Revelation Space” by Alastair Reynolds

Revelation_Space_cover_(Amazon)

<WARNING: spoilers ahead>

Starts out great.  This is a summary of the first 50 pages:

  1. A space archaeologist, Dan Sylveste, is excavating an extinct starfaring civilization (the Amarantin) from 900,000 years ago; assisted by consultations with a simulation of the conciousness of his dead father (Calvin); embroiled in planetary politics and a rebellion.

  2. A massive, virtual ghost ship, the “lighthugger” (almost, but not quite as fast as light) Nostalgia for Infinity, crewed by just a handful but with thousands of empty cryocells, overtaken by computer viruses and in one case a cancerous fungal form overtaking the Captain’s cryocell; armed with planet-killer “cache weapons.”

  3. A world with “Shadowplay”, entertainment where daredevils hire professional assassins to try and kill them, with the resulting chase being captured by the media.

All together, an interesting semi post-Singularity future roughly 500 years from now.  The three threads, one each for the main characters Sylveste, Volyova (weapons officer on the lighthugger) and Khouri (a Shadowplay assassin), quickly come together.  A shadowy individual, the Mademoseille, hires Khouri to kill Sylveste; Volyova unknowingly recruits Khouri onto the lighthugger – bound for Resurgam, the Amarantin world Sylveste is investigating.  Meanwhile, there is a runaway entity loose in the lighthugger’s computers called Sun Stealer which had its own agenda.

The middle of the book kind of bogged down, sadly.  Maybe too many unexplained motives and weird happenings that only make sense after the big reveals?  Not sure I can articulate why I got kind of lost and bored…

Turns out the plot involves the solution to the Fermi Paradox – intelligent life does routinely arise throughout the galaxy, but is fairly quickly wiped out by a race called the Inhibitors, created in the aftermath of the first great, billion-year long, intergalactic war.  Thus was the fate of the Amarantin … but not before they sealed themselves off inside “Shrouds”, impervious shells of weird physics which can’t be pierced by anything.  Turns out Sylveste visited one and was infected by the Amarantin Sun Stealer; his companion in a sister ship died but was possessed by a different Amarantin entity … the Mademoseille.  These entities represent rival factions – the Sun Stealer is wants to use Sylveste to bring humanity to the attention of the Inhibitors to see if they are still an operational threat (if not then the Amarantin in the Shroud can come out of hiding) while the Mademoseille doesn’t think this is a good idea.  Both manipulate and infect the decision making of all the main characters throughout the story.

Finally there is a giant neutron star computer thing, origin unexplained but not a product of any race or species involved in the story.  Kind of a plot hole?  Maybe some explanation in later books.  Sylveste ends up in here, living as a simulation.  There is definitely a theme of making copies of oneself – either living as a simulation (Calvin, Sun Stealer, Mademoiselle, Sylveste inside the neutron star computer) or totally taking over another’s body (the Captain into Sajaki, Calvin’s unrealized plan for Dan Sylveste).

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