Saturday, July 11, 2009

Alastair Reynolds

I recently finished reading Alastair Reynolds' monstrous sci-fi trilogy, Revelation Space, Redemption Ark, and Absolution Gap. There are problems with the plotting, pace, and character development in these very long novels, but the problems are overwhelmed by the astonishing outpouring of invention. Reynolds has an amazing imagination, and these books contain more fascinating places, species, human tribes, and technological wonders than the universes of Star Trek and Star Wars put together, packed within a world that conforms reasonably well to the laws of physics. I enjoyed the whole thing, and recommend them to any fan of sci-fi or imaginative writing.


Thomas said...

David loaned me two Reynolds novels, "Revelation Space" and a stand-alone novel, "Pushing Ice." I read "Pushing Ice," and I really liked it. "Revelation Space" is taking me much longer - I keep stopping and starting. Definitely, pacing is a big weakness in Reynolds' books. I'm finally into the part of "Revelation Space" where stuff is happening.

Reynolds also has a plotting crutch, which seemed interesting in "Pushing Ice" but starts to get grating. Characters get jailed and isolated for a long time in both books. It becomes clear that when he needs long times to pass for his characters with not much happening, he throws them in jail.

Still, as you say, he has a gigantic imagination.

John said...

I just discussed "Pushing Ice" with David and Ted, and while they both liked it better than "Revelation Space," I liked it much less. I thought the hatreds between the characters where bizarrely unmotivated, and it baffled me that nobody on a crew of wandering space cowboys seemed excited about discovering an alien world. I did not think there was enough invention to overcome the problems of plot and character. Whereas in the trilogy, the riot of invention distracted me from all the issues with plotting and character.

Thomas said...

Yeah, I think what bothers me about Revelation Space is that it's moving slowly and there are TWO MORE BOOKS.

Perhaps knowing that "Pushing Ice" would finish helped me keep going and stay interested.

But yeah, the conflict between the two main characters did seem horribly unmotivated (and wholly unnecessary to the story.)

Thomas said...

Exchanging email with David, I realized another peeve I have with Rev Space - that a main character, Silvestre, has a theory which is known to the entire population of a planet, but the reader is left in the dark about it for most of the novel. Similary, Khouri learns something really important from Mademoiselle, and yet we are left in the dark for a long time about that, too. The story switches around amongst three characters, but the omniscience of the narrator to tell us what these characters are thinking is very selective, leading to a cheap kind of mystery - the readers are left in the dark selectively.

In "Pushing Ice," when characters learn things, so do we. It therefore draws us in a bit more, because we are wondering about the same questions as the characters. In that sense, even though the human characters are poorly drawn, at least we have a point of identification by imagining ourselves in their situation.

On the other hand, one thing I like about both books is Reynolds smart use of the relativity of time. In "Pushing Ice," it's particularly clever that the prologue, which we initially think of as being in the distant future, actually occurs before most of the story, and the prologue affects the story. The prologue actually led me to expect one ending, and it was a welcome "twist."