Alastair Reynolds's critically acclaimed debut has redefined the space opera with a staggering journey across vast gulfs of time and space to confront the very nature of reality itself.
This distant-past/far-future, hard sci-fi tour de force probes a galaxy-wide enigma: why does spacefaring humanity encounter so few remnants of intelligent life? Excavating the 900,000-year-old Amarantin civilization on its home world, Resurgam, archaeologist Dan Sylveste discovers evidence of a splinter cult that abandoned Resurgam for the stars but returned, only to be swallowed up by a mysterious cataclysm that destroyed all the Amarantins. Aboard the Nostalgia for Infinity, a vast light-hugger ship in interstellar space, the ominous Triumvirate of cyborg starfarers seeks Sylveste to heal its captain, afflicted by the deadly Melding Plague, which turns once-humans into their own semisentient spaceships. In Chasm City on the slum-ridden world of Yellowstone, assassin Ana Khouri joins the Nostalgia's crew intent on killing Sylveste. Clearly intoxicated by cutting-edge scientific research in bioengineering, space physics, cybernetics Reynolds spins a ravishingly inventive tale of intrigue. Hard SF addicts will applaud the author's talent for creating convincing alien beings and the often uneasy merging of human and machine intelligence, depicted here as nearly too frighteningly real for comfort. Others, however, may find these human-cybernetic hybrid characters chilling, dispassionate (except for their built-in drives toward revenge and murder) and foreboding. Reynolds's vision of a future dominated by artificial intelligence trembles with the ultimate cold of the dark between the stars. (June 12) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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May 27, 2002
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Excerpt from Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds
Mantell Sector, North Nekhebet, Resurgam, Delta Pavonis system, 2551
There was a razorstorm coming in.
Sylveste sood on the edge of the excavation and wondered if any of his labours would survive the night. The archeological dig was an array of deep square shafts separated by baulks of sheer-sided soil: the classical Wheeler box-grid. The shafts went down tens of metres, walled by transparent cofferdams spun from hyperdiamond. A million years of stratified geological history pressed against the sheets. But it would take only one good dustfall one good razorstorm to fill the shafts almost to the surface.
"Confirmation, sir," said one of his team, emerging from the crouched form of the first crawler. The man's voice was muffled behind his breather mask. "Cuvier's just issued a severe weather advisory for the whole North Nekhebet landmass. They're advising all surface teams to return to the nearest base."
"You're saying we should pack up and drive back to Mantell?"
"It's going to be a hard one, sir." The man fidgeted, drawing the collar of his jacket tighter around his neck. "Shall I issue the general evacuation order?"
Sylveste looked down at the excavation grid, the sides of each shaft brightly lit by the banks of floodlights arrayed around the area. Pavonis never got high enough at these latitudes to provide much useful illumination; now, sinking towards the horizon and clotted by great cauls of dust, it was little more than a rusty-red smear, hard for his eyes to focus on. Soon dust devils would come, scurrying across the Ptero Steppes like so many overwound toy gyroscopes. Then the main thrust of the storm, rising like a black anvil.
"No," he said. "There's no need for us to leave. We're well sheltered here there's hardly any erosion pattering on those boulders, in case you hadn't noticed. If the storm becomes too harsh, we'll shelter in the crawlers."
The man looked at the rocks, shaking his head as if doubting the evidence of his ears. "Sir, Cuvier only issue an advisory of this severity once every year or two it's an order of magnitude above anything we've experienced before."
"Speak for yourself," Sylveste said, noticing the way the man's gaze snapped involuntarily to his eyes and then off again, embarrassed. "Listen to me. We cannot afford to abandon this dig. Do you understand?"
The man looked back at the grid. "We can protect what we've uncovered with sheeting, sir. Then bury transponders. Even if the dust covers every shaft, we'll be able to find the site again and get back to where we are now." Behind his dust goggles, the man's eyes were wild, beseeching. "When we return, we can put a dome over the whole grid. Wouldn't that be the best, sir, rather than risk people and equipment out here?"
Sylveste took at step closer to the man, forcing him to step back towards the grid's closest shaft. "You're to do the following. Inform all dig teams that they carry on working until I say otherwise, and that there is to be no talk of retreating to Mantell. Meanwhile, I want only the most sensitive instruments taken aboard the crawlers. Is that understood?"
"But what about people, sir?"
"People are to do what they came out here to do. Dig."
Sylveste stared reproachfully at the man, almost inviting him to question the order, but after a long moment of hesitation the man turned on his heels and scurried across the grid, navigating the tops of the baulks with practiced ease. Spaced around the grid like down-pointed cannon, the delicate imaging gravitometers swayed slightly as the wind began to increase.
Sylveste waited, then followed a similar path, deviating when he was a few boxes into the grid. Near the centre of the excavation, four boxes had been enlarged into one single slab-sided pit, thirty metres from side to side and nearly as deep. Sylveste stepped onto the ladder which led into the pit and moved quickly down the side. He had made the journey up and down this ladder so many times in the last few weeks that the lack of vertigo was almost more disturbing than the thing itself. Moving down the cofferdam's side, he descended through layers of geological time. Nine hundred thousand years had passed since the Event. Most of that stratification was permafrost typical in Resurgam's subpolar latitudes; permanent frost-soil which never thawed. Deeper down close to the Event itself was a layer of regolith laid down in the impacts which had followed. The Event itself was a single, hair-fine black demarcation the ash of burning forests.