Saturday, 7 January 2012

Space Opera

Listening to:

Mahler, symphony no. 2 “Resurrection”, with the CBSO conducted by Simon Rattle.

Just read:

Revelation Space, Redemption Ark and Absolution Gap, all by Alistair Reynolds.

Considered individually, I’d probably give RS and AG high marks out of ten, with RA slightly fewer. Unfortunately, as a trilogy, the set is laid low by AG. I really, really disliked the way it concluded the series.

The trilogy gets off to a great start in RS, with some great ideas and situations developed. I particularly liked the “lighthugger” ship controlled by a triumvirate of anti-social nutters, which also houses an infected captain who has to be kept frozen to stop the nano-plague he’s subject to from spreading further.

There are a bunch of other threads to the story too. The development is a tease: there are no big reveals until very late in the first novel, but I found the pace just on this side of bearable. That certainly makes for a page-turning experience, though I could imagine people also finding it too exasperating.

The whole series seems to take the speed-of-light limit quite seriously. Interstellar travel really does take years, with people freezing themselves to cope with the transit times (of course relativity effects mean they don’t find the transit time to be as great as other observers). Nor is there any faster-than-light communication, making for a set of systems that really are years apart. (No human society has ever tried to hold itself together over such time-distances; I wonder how it would really pan out.) In itself, this commitment to Einstein really does give the trilogy an interesting flavour.

The second volume of the trilogy introduces a new angle on the developing story, and a new set of mostly unsympathetic characters. I didn’t think so much of it.

Finally, Absolution Gap. This has one of the all-time best basic premises for an SF novel. On the other hand, it really doesn’t tie into the rest of the trilogy all that well. It could have easily been a completely separate novel. What’s worse is that this volume ends up dispensing with the trilogy’s overall threat in a completely cavalier and off-hand way. And then it leaves everything hanging with another threat supposedly about to do in the civilised galaxy. This is an absolutely terrible way to finish, and left a decidedly sour taste in my mouth.