Redemption Ark, by Alastair Reynolds
After reading Revelation Space, I was hotly anticipating diving into the next volume in Alastair Reynolds’ broad space opera. I wasn’t disappointed! Now, I actually finished this a while ago, but if you’ve been following the blog, you’ll know why I haven’t posted a book review yet. Between babies and houses falling apart, it’s been a fairly busy end to summer! Anyways, to Science Fiction.
Revelation Space focused on a lot of characters who were definitely advanced humans, but none of them could really be considered “post-human,” especially now after having finished Redemption Ark (well, that’s my opinion). I’m getting the feeling that Reynolds will explore a different branch of post-humanism in every successive book I read in this series, after finishing this book. Redemption Ark focuses a lot on a group of people who call themselves “Conjoiners,” and who are most definitely post-human. Conjoiners, or “Spiders” as they are sometimes called by non-Conjoiners (probably due to their penchant for installing webs of intellect and physiology-improving nanomachines and implants in themselves), are a fairly independent group of people. They are also responsible for the propulsion drives that carry the rest of humanity to the stars: “conjoiner drives” power the massive lighthugger ships that patrol interstellar space.
Some of the implants that Conjoiners use are leveraged to allow them to open their minds to each other; a “hive mind” mentality and theoretically egalitarian society is the general philosophy. The research that founded them was born of the premise that by augmenting the capabilities of the mind and the body, humans could advance quicker, react quicker, withstand more pain, selectively block out paranoid fears and phobias temporarily, and work in concert to solve a problem instead of only being able to see things individually and competitively. Conjoiners can choose to open their minds to one another, or close them selectively. Very few of them bother to use speech as a method of communication because it’s just too damn slow.
The Conjoiners have a home base near the planet of Yellowstone called the Mother Nest, and things are changing. At the beginning of this book, they are involved in a war with another group of post-humans called the Demarchists. With dwindling numbers and inferior technology, the Demarchists are rapidly losing. While the war seems to needlessly extend itself, the Conjoiners are secretly starting to look in other places. After a long stretch of absence, the founder of the Conjoiner faction – Galiana – has been returned to the Mother Nest, and not under celebratory circumstances. When her lighthugger is discovered drifting and is investigated, a Conjoiner named Skade discovers a massacre. To a person, the entire crew has been killed and mutilated beyond recognition. The only survivor? Galiana. She is found in a hibernation coffin, her vital signs slowed to a crawl to survive the long stretches of interstellar space travel with minimal aging, in a room that is completely isolated from the ship around it. She is not alone, however. The entities that killed the rest of the crew – the “Wolves,” as the Conjoiners come to call them – have infiltrated her coffin, and have entered her body. Tiny microscopic entities from beyond Conjoiner imagining are getting to know Galiana by interfacing with her brain and her being. When revived, and when she has control of her own speech, she wants only to be killed. Out of respect and love for their founder, however, the Conjoiners can’t do it.
Her reappearance forces the Conjoiners to look inward. With their war almost won, a seemingly much greater threat has surfaced, and they need to do something about it. Between special advisory councils, and secret high-power societies, the decision is made to do something about it, and fast. The Conjoiners decide to arm themselves, beyond their already advanced capabilities. How? Hell-class weapons. Weapons born out of unknown and secret research, then locked away because the Conjoiners were afraid to use them, the Wolves are giving them a reason to do so. Unfortunately, they’ve been stolen from the cache by a crew of the lighthugger Nostalgia for Infinity… a ship we were introduced to in Revelation Space. After the events of Revelation Space, the Conjoiners have detected the use of the hell-class weapons, and now know where to find them. The chase begins to recover what is seen as their only defense, and Skade, a war hero named Nevil Clavain, plus a host of other characters with different and sordid pasts and agendas start to make the chase to Resurgam, where Nostalgia for Infinity is drifting in space. They are not all working together, however, but I will leave it to you to read the book and find out how they get there.
Meanwhile, on and around Resurgam, strange things are happening. We see some new characters mixing with some old characters, political coups, coverups, and massive evacuation attempts surface, all because of an unknown threat and phenomenon in their solar system. They also don’t know that they’re being hunted by another branch of their own species, with the Conjoiners making a desperate jump to find the ship hiding near Resurgam. When the story-arcs of the two character sets collide, the climax of the book is desperate at best.
I loved this book, and I think I’m doing a pretty good job of keeping some of the cooler details and the main threats anonymous. This book advanced on where the first one left off with the idea of long slow accelerations to near the speed of light, and advanced it in desperate times to have the characters taking risks with technology allowing them to sustain higher gees and thus greater accelerations, gaining top speed quicker. (Of course, the recent discovery of faster-than-light particles may turn physics on its head, but this book had no idea…) The intrigue of the Conjoiner society is also awesome. The description of the hollowed out meteor that forms the Mother Nest is a really cool idea, and really does make the Conjoiners feel more like busy bees than the spiders other characters in the book refer to them as. We also find out smaller details, like why they have stopped building Conjoiner drives.
The character of Nevil Clavain is also extremely strong, and he deserves his own paragraph. He is one of the strongest characters I can remember reading recently, and is instantly likable. Many of the characters in the book paint him as a villain; indeed, he often sees himself that way, but in my reading of the book I found I couldn’t wait for the next time Reynolds would follow the Clavain arc. It’s up to you to figure out where he’s a villain or a hero, protagonist or antagonist, but there he is.
The other parts of the book were also great. Old characters and new ones (though, I didn’t really like “pigs,” you’ll have to read to find out about them) were great, and the further development of the main threat facing the human race is also interesting. The characters learn more, as does the reader, but not much more. Things just get more ominous. I highly recommend this book as a followup to Revelation Space, and am now happily reading the third book in this series, Absolution Gap.