NESFA Members' Reviews

coverRedemption Ark

by Alastair Reynolds

A book review by Mark L. Olson

Victor Gollancz, 2002, £17.99, 567 pp

Redemption Ark brings Reynolds back to the top of his form. The book (a huge book physically) continues the story started in the superb Revelation Space and continued in Chasm City.

In Revelation Space a man named Sylveste took an archeological expedition to Resurgam in an attempt to understand what caused the recent (less than a million years ago) extinction of the Amarantim, an intelligent race which lived there. He was enormously rich, the son of one of Yellowstone’s richest and most powerful men, and Yellowstone was humanity’s richest and most powerful planet, webbed with computers, AIs and nanotech.

Sylveste learns that something – he calls them the Inhibitors – came out of space and destroyed the Amarantim. Is it Humanity's turn next?

Chasm City takes us to Yellowstone, but not the Yellowstone that Sylveste left. This Yellowstone is in the grip of the Melding Plague, a horrible plague which affects all nano, warping it horribly. The Melding Plague hit Yellowstone after Sylveste left. What caused the Plague?

Now in Redemption Ark we meet the third set of players in the larger story, the Conjoiners. The Conjoiners (who first showed up in Reynold’s excellent early story “Great Wall of Mars”) have experimented in cybernetically-assisted direct mind-to-mind communications. While individual Conjoiners still exist as individuals – personally, they’re a lot like us – they are also are part of a larger whole. Because of their strangeness, they are feared by the rest of humanity.

By the time of Redemption Ark war has broken out in the Yellowstone system between the Conjoiners and the Demarchist remnants of the glory days. (The Demarchists were a group from the early days who avidly used high tech but avoided too much mental engineering. Prior to the Melding Plague, they were mankind’s strongest faction.)

Clavain is a name from the earliest days of Conjoiner history, and we met him for the first time in “Great Wall of Mars” where he was leading anti-Conjoiner forces, but defected to them and helped them escape into interstellar space. Between long years in suspended animation during interstellar travel and advanced medicine, Clavain is still alive, though now an old man. While a Conjoiner, he has tended to stay aloof and has refused to participate in the Conjoiner inner circles, the Closed Council. He gets away with it since he is their most effective military man with nearly a couple of subjective centuries of experience.

But he is finally drawn in as word gets back that a Conjoiner expedition into deep space has returned deeply scarred by alien forces that the Conjoiners call the Wolves. What are the Wolves and what do they mean? Whatever they are, they’re dangerous and the Closed Council wants Clavain to recover the Hell Cache, a secret cache of 36 powerful weapons built in the earliest days of the Conjoiners and then judged to be so dangerous that the knowledge of how to build them was suppressed. But the Hell Cache itself was hidden away -- "we might need that someday".

Guess where they are hidden? In the Resurgam system – Ultras (another faction of humanity) had acquired the Hell Cache a century before, and these were the same Ultras who played so large a role in Revelation Space.

Now things get complicated as plotting groups within the Conjoiners begin to surface, and the war between the Conjoiners and the Demarchists heats up, and rival expeditions set off for Resurgam.

The chase from Yellowstone to Resurgam is one of the better superscientific sequences I’ve read, as the various factions pull technology – quite plausibly – out of their hats while en route. It’s excitingly done and, I suspect, quite essential to the eventual resolution of the story.

In the mean time, the Inhibitors have arrived at Resurgam and are very slowly making preparations for something really big and probably really bad – they’re tearing apart some of the outer worlds to build something.

This is a lovely book which does a superb job of pulling together disparate plot strings and partially resolving some of them. Some of them because the series isn’t over yet!

As always, I have a few quibbles, the biggest of which is that I’m bothered by the triviality of the Wolves' motivation. It just doesn’t seem strong enough to justify what they're doing. I also want some sort of explanation why the Melding Plague popped up at just the right time to wipe out most of Humanity’s defenses.

I’m also not convince that Reynolds will be able to completely tie it all together – he’s got such a complex plot built up.

But even if he doesn’t, I expect great things of the next volume!

Highly recommended!

See also my other Alistair Reynolds reviews: Redemption ArkRevelation SpaceDiamond Dogs

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