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Redemption Ark
Alastair Reynolds
Gollancz hardcover £17.99

review by Duncan Lawie

Redemption Ark, Alastair Reynolds' third novel, continues to explore the future history that has been the primary subject of his science fiction so far. It returns to the Delta Pavonis system where Revelation Space ended, picking up a number of dangling plot threads. The Inhibitors have arrived and are building a great weapon, observed only by Volyova and Khouri who have decided they must save the population of a planet that hates them. Meanwhile there is also the new perspective of the Conjoiners. This tech-mediated hive mind has not been brought on-stage before at novel length, though their presence has clearly had a significant effect on the shape of Reynolds' universe. They, too, have discovered evidence of the Inhibitors but they're reaction to it is complicated by factionalism and an ongoing war with the Demarchy. It becomes apparent that they have no love for Volyova either.
   This book is, in essence, a sequel to Reynolds first novel, Revelation Space, but it draws in almost everything he has written so far. Whilst the story of competition between Conjoiner factions can be well appreciated without reference to what has gone before, a greater familiarity with Reynolds' other writings will be rewarded. At the simpler end of the scale, the author can't quite resist a cameo or two from the book Chasm City. Beyond that, the transformations of the city itself will have a considerable impact on those who are familiar with its environs from the earlier novels, whilst there are intimations of a fascinating story in the interstices of the city that may never be brought fully to light. Regardless of these 'Easter eggs', the plot itself is richly embroidered with detail of life several centuries hence. The new characters are well rounded, which is important as the impetus of the story is defined as much by character interaction as by knowledge seeking.
   Redemption Ark is filled with SF tropes, from mobile brain jars to repressive governments and from arcane weapons to alien killing machines yet almost every object fits neatly into its setting. The Inhibitors are shown in a new light; not necessarily more sympathetically but they are more interestingly defined, with a rationale which bounds their actions. The thought that has gone into defining their nature is clear, expanding their initial inimical brief into a history for the galaxy. This history allows us to perceive the galaxy at astronomical scales of time and distance, offering an immense backdrop against which our lonely species plays out its dramas. The Conjoiners, from their viewing in this volume, seem to be failing as a hive mind. The corrupting influence of war and the apparent loss of their founder has factionalised them. However, since the truly conjoined would be exceedingly difficult to understand, we have viewpoint characters that are capable of operating without the hive. Clavain has already figured in a pair of novellas where Reynolds drew out the origin of the Conjoiners whilst his nemesis, Skade, is younger, sharper, faster and a lot less human.
   Redemption Ark feels a little like the middle of a trilogy, and so must carry the weight of a larger plot that it does not conclude. It does this ably, filling out the stories of those who will not be carried on into the final part whilst opening up the avenues of that subsequent volume yet also remaining a classic space opera and an entertaining diversion. It may also prove to be the lynchpin of Reynolds' whole future history.
Redemption Ark by Alastair Reynolds
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