A novel by Alastair Reynolds.
Nine hundred thousand years ago, something annihilated the Amarantin civilization just as it was on the verge of discovering space flight. Now one scientist, Dan Sylveste, will stop at nothing to solve the Amarantin riddle before ancient history repeats itself. With no other resources at his disposal, Sylveste forges a dangerous alliance with the cyborg crew of the starship Nostalgia for Infinity. But as he closes in on the secret, a killer closes in on him. Because the Amarantin were destroyed for a reason — and if that reason is uncovered, the universe — and reality itself — could be irrecoverably altered.
Alastair Reynolds was one of those authors who kept popping up in suggested reading but one I had always put off until later. I came from the Iain M Banks fold but have slowly been diversifying and am very glad I finally picked up this book.
If I were to summarise the experience, it would be like closing a giant zipper. The initial pieces are detailed enough to draw you in, but their relevance is not usually obvious until later. Much later in some cases. For me, this is an expertly crafted novel as there is nothing that seems extraneous in the final reckoning. I would also liken this to “Cthulhu in Space”. Although it’s not directly using the Lovecraftian mythos, the style of the universe being a dark place with strange beings and other dimensions gives the story the eldritch quality that reminds me of the tone of HP Lovecraft. Since Alastair Reynolds is also a theoretical physicist the physics are on-point, well explained even for the everyman, and serve to explain just why things are as they are. As if science is catching up with Lovecraft’s visions of the spaces between, the non-Euclidean and the otherworldly.
The publisher’s summary sounds very direct and action-packed. However, the novel isn’t as straightforward as this and builds out a realistic civilisation-spanning story in a corner of space and paints an excellent back-story to flesh out all the elements so you understand how the pieces fit together, why they are like they are, and get to feel with the characters – however dysfunctional or ‘alien’ they may seem. For example, Sylveste’s dangerous alliance is not one he seeks out, but one that occurs as part of the zipper closing, and one of the players – the ‘Ultras’ (cybernetic enhanced humans) – seeks him out, and whose own back story relates back to events that occur right at the outset of the novel.
If I had an issue with the audiobook it is with the editing. Chapters in the book switch scenes, so there are pauses within the chapters – this is the * * * that you see between paragraphs on a written page within a chapter where the scene switches. However, the audio does not respect these, so John Lee continues straight over them without a pause which means you find yourself in the middle of a conversation between other characters in another part of the story before you realise you have switched. The accents are also similar for some characters which can add to the confusion. I persevered and tuned into this quirk of the audio and was rewarded with a rich and excellent story and I am now looking forward to picking up Redemption Ark (Part II in the trilogy).