Redemption Ark sort of takes up where Revelation Space leaves off, but uses quite a number of different characters to present the narrative. Where the Conjoiners were just another group of weirdos in the first book, here two of the main points of view are from Conjoiners – who end up having quite different takes on the events. There are a couple of familiar characters, happily – who have changed in some ways quite substantially, but of course in many ways stay the same – as well as some other new ones, including one of the most ‘normal’ characters Reynolds has used to present action in any of the Rev Space books.
The narrative? Revelation Space hinted at Inhibitors, a machine race of some sort tasked with inhibiting the development of fleshy sentience into the wider galaxy; Dan Sylveste, in his arrogance, rang their bell. <i>Redemption Ark</i> – along with a lot of side-stories – addresses how the people of Resurgam, as well as some other concerned galactic citizens, might deal with this particular threat to their existence. Actually, it’s worse than that, since most of the people on Resurgam have absolutely no idea what is going on. It’s the other people – with mixed motives – who have to take action on their behalf. Enter two very different Conjoiners, some hyperpigs, and ordinary space-faring citizens, and the race is on to decide who is going to get the weapons that alone might have a chance of dealing with that rather intimidating threat.
I love this stuff.
As I said, there are a lot of sub-plots going on. There’s the whole back-story of the Conjoiners (more on them later), there’s the sad story of Antoinette and how she ends up involved in all of this, there’s those recurring characters and what’s happened to them between books as well as what they’re doing now (se me avoiding spoilers?), as well as an update on Resurgam and Chasm City. It’s this depth, this chunkiness, that all manages to make sense and add to the overall story, that I adore about these books. If you stripped all this possibly-extraneous material out you’d have maybe a 250-300 page book (rather than 650-odd pages), and it would probably be quite good, but… it would be missing the marvellous detail, the feel of it being a messy and oh-so-real society, that I love.
The characters are of course a wonderful part of that messiness. The Conjoiners, it turns out, are a society created by one Galliana in an attempt to bring humanity ever closer to one another – by being conjoined by a neural network that allows people to communicate essentially telepathically, and see things that other people are projecting, and even read further into others’ minds than simply their surface thoughts. The idea was to create a transparent, and presumably egalitarian, society. It’s a lovely utopian vision, and there are of course dark hints that way back when it was being established – on Mars, 400 years prior to the book – that it caused wars with those afraid of that vision. I know I’ve read about that back story, somewhere; it might have been one of Reynolds’ short stories. In Redemption Ark the Conjoiners are represented primarily to the reader through Clavain – an early, somewhat unwilling recruit – and the paradoxically ambitious Skade. These two characters are developed thoroughly and, actually, quite messily; their motivations don’t always make immediate sense, they are conflicted, and they make horrendous decisions in the heat of battle. I love Clavain; I respect Skade but I would definitely want to keep her at arms’ length. Preferably someone else’s arms.
There are other new characters. Antoinette Bax, ship-owner and budding transporter, is the fairly naive and hapless everywoman (along with her partner Xavier) who gets dragged along almost against her will. She’s one of the few sections I think could have been excised without the overall narrative losing much complexity and wonderfulness (did I mention I love this novel?). Then there’s Scorpio, a hyperpig. The pigs get mentioned in Chasm City, but they don’t play much of a part; their backstory is fleshed out a little more here, but we still have to wait for another story – I think The Prefect? and one or two shorts – to get much detail. Still, the idea that a new intelligent species could have arisen out of human/pig experiments aimed at making human organ replacement easier is fascinating.
It’s a great book. There’s tension on a galactic scale, and on a personal level; there’s technology, and overcoming its limits in potentially dangerous ways; there are cameos from earlier books; there is witty dialogue, and hinted-at dark pasts, and just wonderful writing too. #fangirl