Alastair Reynolds is one of the leading lights writing this generation's space opera, and his perspective (European, a PhD in Astronomy) gives his stories a very contemporary feel. I like the hard SF setting, with slower-than-light starships and ancient, dead civilizations instead of living aliens, and parts of this book were quite spooky and sinister. When the crew is prowling the corridors of the huge spaceship Infinity
avoiding "rats" and other creatures controlled by a hostile intelligence, it felt like one of those old sci-fi horror movies.Revelation Space
is full of great ideas, especially in the conclusion, where it turns out that the small and large intrigues of the main characters have all been leading them to a confrontation on a much larger scale than they imagined: a threat that could end the human race. I like high-stakes stories like this. So this book was basicall a recipe for everything I should love in a sci-fi novel.
So why only 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3? Because another crucial ingredient for me (and this is very much my own preference, which is why other people may love this book) is characters who feel real and who I like at least a little. Reynolds's characters aren't as wooden as those of some other hard SF writers, and he gives them plenty of background and motivation and personality, but after describing all those things, he doesn't spend much time letting them live and breathe and reminding you why they are interesting. They just go about their business executing the plot. As soon as the book ended, I was thinking about the story and the technology, but the characters were mostly forgettable.
Also, honestly, there were parts of the book (as I listened to the audio version) that just sailed past me because I wasn't engaged enough to pay attention to all the details. So I'd say the pacing failed to hold my attention. Usually with an audiobook that's a sign of a book that meanders too much, at least for me. Letting me get bored, even sometimes, means I round down instead of up; sorry, Alastair Reynolds. I did like House of Suns
, so I'm willing to give him another shot. I'd say if you like Niven, Brin, Asimov, or Clarke, you should give Reynolds a try.