When I bought Revelation Space back in 2001, I read about a hundred pages and then simply had to stop and take a deep breath because of its sheer awesomeness: it was the most fascinating “new” sf novel I’d read in ages.
It’s not for everyone, I can see that, but for me this mixture of baroque space opera, Alastair Reynolds’s scientific knowledge, and his dry, sarcastic dialogs just blew me away.
For years, I didn’t pick it up again because my life and head were full of other stuff—starting a new business with friends or writing my doctoral thesis, for starters—and I simply didn’t want to spoil everything but savor the reading experience. Now, with all these businesses taken care of and my dissertation handed in, I picked Revelation Space up again and started reading it from page one. And yes, it was still awesome, and still too short for my appetite in spite of its 600 pages (or rather 700, taking the slightly wider Gollancz format into account), while the numerous strands of its grand story got tied up almost too neatly in the end.[Note: Here Be Spoilers.]
Many people, I understand, actually like the novel but have a problem with the characters. I’d say they’re pretty well developed, but this is—and has to be—sometimes less than evident. In the course of the story, practically every one of them becomes remote-controlled in one way or another, subtly or obviously, temporarily or all the time. Some have characteristics suppressed, some are nudged into single-minded endeavors. And most if not all of them are not very likable either. All of which conspires to forestall or at least postpone possible identification with one or more of the major characters, aggravated by the fact that one’s never really privy to what they’re up to. But so, neither are they.
Moreover, people often claim that Sylveste and Pascale falling in love with each other were less than convincing. Well, it depends: they worked intimately together on Sylveste’s/Calvin’s biography throughout Sylveste’s confinement after the Resurgam revolution for, what was it, about twelve years—which should do the trick even if they don’t seem particularly emotionally compatible. Professionally, besides, they’re close to being a perfect match.
Thirdly and lastly, one reviewer complained about the “sardonic, over-written” dialog. That’s true, but I enjoyed this style immensely. Also, this kind of dialog does have a function. Most of the interactions occur between pairs or groups of people forced to work together either physically or, well, neurologically, who don’t like each other very much most of the time and/or have vastly different agendas. The dialog style, one should notice, fits these predicaments very well: Sylveste/Calvin, Sylveste/Girardieau, Khouri/Mademoiselle, Khouri/Volyova, Sajaki/Volyova, and so on. The sarcastic, bantering style employed throughout isn’t just related to Reynolds’s “English” English, but also to a certain dialog style from American film, particularly between the ’30s and ’50s, where it is employed in much the same way: Rick Blaine/Captain Renault in Casablanca would fit right in. Granted, this kind of dialog is far from being “realistic,” but what good would it do if all the dialogs in all the books we read would sound like an early piece of Hemingway’s.