Friday, 18 April 2008

Author Profile: Alastair Reynolds

Alastair Reynolds is a Welsh science fiction author. Born in 1966 in Barry, he lived and studied in Wales, Cornwall, Newcastle before graduating with a PhD from St. Andrews in Scotland. He then went to work for the European Space Agency in the Netherlands, leaving in 2004 to pursue writing full-time.

As a teenager he wrote two novel-length stories, A Union World and Dominant Species, which were never published but gave him ideas about writing discipline and what ideas he wished to pursue in his SF. In particular, he vowed not to employ cliches such as faster-than-light travel, magically Earth-like planets or easily-relatable humanoid aliens again. His first short story, Nunivak Snowflakes appeared in Interzone, where much of his short fiction would appear over the years. His second published story, 'Dialation Sleep' (1989, published in 1990, reprinted in the 2006 collection Galactic North), rejected such concepts and is also the earliest work set in his signature Revelation Space universe. Interestingly, despite a steady stream of short fiction sales in the following years, Reynolds did not revisit the setting for seven years, until the short stories 'A Spy in Europa' and 'Galactic North' were developed in parallel to Reynolds' first two novels, Revelation Space and Chasm City.

Having established himself as a reliably entertaining short story writer, Reynolds made the leap to writing full-length novels with the rapid appearance of his first two novels, Revelation Space and Chasm City. Revelation Space established the presence of a threat to humanity, a machine-based intelligence known as the Inhibitors who had rendered many thousands of races extinct for reasons unknown. Curiously, despite ending with several plot threads unresolved, Reynolds' next novel, Chasm City, actually stepped back before the events of Revelation Space and told a different, self-contained story mixing hard SF and thriller elements, with a very minor character from Revelation Space as the main protagonist. Both novels were highly acclaimed and Chasm City in particular warmly received.

Reynolds proceeded with two direct sequels to Revelation Space, named Redemption Ark and Absolution Gap, and two self-contained novellas set in the Revelation Space universe (Diamond Dogs and Turqoise Days, later issued as an omnibus by Gollancz).

The Revelation Space universe is a dark, disturbing and often brutal place. Humanity has spawned numerous factions and sub-races, none of which particularly like one another, where cybernetic militants find themselves opposed by religious fanatics. Faster-than-light travel is impossible, so humanity is restricted to a sphere of stars just a few dozen light-years across, with huge ships known as lighthuggers providing interstellar trade and commerce across journeys of years or decades. Yet even in this restricted area of space, humanity keeps finding the ruins of various alien civilisations that were obliterated by unkown forces centuries or millennia ago. Riven by occasional wars, mankind is then threatened by the outbreak of a biogenic virus known as the Melding Plague which infests numerous worlds and habitats. Yellowstone, one of the richest and most powerful of the colony worlds, is particularly hardly hit, its orbital band of space stations, the Glitter Band, reduced to a dark, impoverished place known as the Rust Belt and its capital, Chasm City, becomes a twisted and grotesque mockery of its former ultratech self. But, whilst the human factions squabble between them, a darker threat emerges in the Delta Pavonis system when a belligerent machine intelligence known as the Inhibitors is inadvertantly made away of mankind's existence, plunging humanity into a desperate war for survival...

Although the Revelation Space universe was very popular, Reynolds had already moved away from it in his contemporary short fiction and followed suit with his next two novels, Century Rain (a hard-bitten noirish detective story partially set in 1950s Paris and partially in the remote future) and Pushing Ice (a gleefully-told 'big dumb object' SF novel), and a short story collection called Zima Blue. Reynolds returned to the RS universe with Galactic North, a short story collection, and The Prefect, a new novel set before the Melding Plague and substantially earlier than any of the prior RS novels in a brighter time long before the emergence of the Inhibitors. Sequels further exploring this period before the dark times of the plague, and perhaps chronicling the arrival of the plague itself, have been promised.

Alastair Reynolds is one of British SF's most reliably entertaining talents. His hard SF ideas are combined with deft characterization and sometimes impressive action sequences and draped in atmosphere, ranging from noir to the gothic to the baroque.

Alastair Reynolds maintains a website here. Myself and Pat from Pat's Fantasy Hotlist interviewed Reynolds here.

The Revelation Space Trilogy
Revelation Space (2000) ****½
Redemption Ark (2002) ****½
Absolution Gap (2003) ****

Other Works in the Revelation Space Universe
Chasm City (2001) *****
Diamond Dogs, Turqoise Days (2003) ***½
Galactic North (2006, collection)
The Prefect (2007) ****

Stand-Alone Books
Century Rain (2004) ***½
Pushing Ice (2005)
Zima Blue (2006, collection)
House of Suns (2008)


Mihai A. said...

Dear Adam, may I put your blog on my blogroll?

Adam Whitehead said...

Sure, go for it!

Mihai A. said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this, Adam - it's appreciated. Just one thing - my first published story was actually Nunivak Snowflakes, in Interzone 36. Dilation Sleep followed in IZ39.

Adam Whitehead said...

Thanks! And I fixed that issue,

Ry said...

Dear Adam, I just finished Revelation Space and I enjoyed it immensely. I can't seem to find whether or not I should read Chasm City next or continue with the trilogy. I want to get the most out of his books but at the same time I don't want to get lost by reading a side book. Any suggestions?

Adam Whitehead said...

Chasm City doesn't directly impact on the events of the trilogy (Revelation Space-Redemption Ark-Absolution Gap), so it can safely be left until after you've finished the trilogy.

Ry said...

Thanks so much! I'll be sure to recommend your blog to my friends, its excellent!