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Reynolds, Alastair

Entry updated 15 April 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1966-    ) UK author who has also worked as a physicist and astronomer – notably 1991-2004 at the Netherlands European Space Research and Technology Centre, a division of the European Space Agency – an experience that strongly informs his work.

His first published story was "Nunivak Snowflakes" in Interzone for June 1990, but it was not for another decade that he published his first novel, Revelation Space (2000). Preceded by such related short stories as "Dilation Sleep", (September 1990 Interzone #39), "A Spy in Europa" (June 1997 Interzone #120) and "Galactic North" (July 1999 Interzone #145), this was the first full-length work in the Revelation Space/Inhibitors sequence, which occupied much of the early part of his career, and to which he has returned on occasion, a Future History extending for a millennium after its beginning in the moderately distant Near Future around 2200 CE. Its premise is, in a sense, a response to the Fermi Paradox. The reason intelligent life appears rarely in the universe is because it is periodically culled by enormously powerful mechanisms known as the Inhibitors (see Berserkers). The galaxy therefore houses a palimpsest of the remnants of past civilizations, to be discovered by literal or metaphorical archaeologists. These artefacts frequently take the form of Big Dumb Objects or Macrostructures whose unlocking drives the plots of the books. Huge and bizarre Weapons also abound. Reynolds's adherence in this series to the fact that Faster Than Light travel is impossible means that protagonists can, as in Revelation Space, spend a long time hobbled by the constraints of Relativity en route to each rendezvous and the conclusion of the book. However, there is no denying the comprehensiveness of Reynolds's vision and its ability to integrate a range of registers from Cyberpunk to Hard SF into the same narrative. Further novels in the main Revelation Space/Inhibitors series – direct sequels to Revelation Space – are Redemption Ark (2002), and Absolution Gap (2003). Chasm City (2001), which stands slightly to one side of the central narrative, is a noir adventure set on the once highly civilized world Yellowstone, now ruined by infectious alien Nanotechnology (the Melding Plague already featured in Revelation Space); this won the BSFA Award. A prequel series also set at least partly in Chasm City – the Prefect sequence comprising The Prefect (2007; vt Aurora Rising: A Prefect Dreyfus Emergency 2017), Elysium Fire: A Prefect Dreyfus Emergency (2018) and Machine Vendetta (2024) – are police-procedural tales whose action takes place in the pre-Plague golden age of Yellowstone and its many thousands of advanced orbital Space Habitats. Inhibitor Phase: A Novel of the Revelation Space Universe (2021) returns to the main sequence, human civilizations having experienced many years of partial recovery and savage diaspora Inhibitor Phase: A Novel of the Revelation Space Universe (2021) returns to the main sequence. Novellas set in the Inhibitors universe include Diamond Dogs (2001) and Turquoise Days (2002 chap), both assembled as Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days: Tales from the Revelation Space Universe (omni 2003). Other works in the same setting, including the 1990s Interzone shorts cited above, are collected in Galactic North (coll 2006).

A number of singleton novels followed, often set in Space Opera venues. Century Rain (2004) is an Alternate History tale in which a very different twentieth-century France acts as a gateway to a story of Nanotechnology-caused catastrophe. Pushing Ice (2005) is a story of interstellar trade and Alien contact, whose complex future is perhaps Reynolds' most fully-imagined melding of Economics and Physics; a human-crewed Spaceship that mines ice from Comets inadvertently hitches a lift when Saturn's moon Janus – actually an extrasolar World Ship – departs on a long journey to an enigmatic Macrostructure housing other worlds and assorted Aliens. House of Suns (2008) approaches Olaf Stapledon in its millennia-distant vista. A large clan of Clones of the central character periodically reunites to share experiences of a galaxy now full of both Posthuman and post-Singularity entities; at one such rendezvous there is an attempt to murder the entire clan. Terminal World (2010) is set on Spearpoint, a vast artificial spire that makes literal Reynolds's tendency to create enclaves or environments embodying different subgenres: thus, for instance, "Steamville" is a Steampunk venue with its own protocols and rules. Most recently, the ambitious Future History sequence Poseidon's Children may signal a new direction for Reynolds: its first volume, Blue Remembered Earth (2012), is structured as a treasure-hunt tour of the complex 2160s solar system, leading to the classic sf promise of travel to the stars – a quest which climaxes in the final volume, Poseidon's Wake (2015), where something like Faster Than Light travel brings together a variety of space-travelling species. The Medusa Chronicle (2016) with Stephen Baxter is a Sequel by Other Hands to Arthur C Clarke's A Meeting with Medusa (December 1971 Playboy; 1988 chap).

Reynolds has also been a prolific author of short fiction, mostly as adjuncts to the Inhibitors sequence; several of these make use of unpleasant biological quirks and transformations to achieve Gothic SF effects. Zima Blue and Other Stories (coll 2006; exp 2009) and Deep Navigation (coll 2010) assemble independent works. The standalone Slow Bullets (2015) tells of Starship travel across an unexpected Time Abyss and the ensuing struggle to preserve decaying technology and evaporating machine-stored knowledge; this won a Locus Award as best novella.

The author's homages to past sf are knowing, and transformative rather than merely imitative. The deranged frozen Starship captain of Revelation Space, for instance, is one of several nods in that novel to Dark Star (1974). The murderous obstacle-course of Mathematical hurdles in Diamond Dogs echoes, on more than one level, Algis Budrys's Rogue Moon (1960; vt The Death Machine 2001) and the reiterated challenge of its alien death machine. The almost surreally retro Solar System introduced in the ostensibly Young Adult Revenger (2016), and which houses of Space Habitats and planetoids in the shape of a vast Archipelago, is also an homage to pre-twenty-first century Space Opera – no Computers, no information nets (see Internet), essentially no Automation at all – but so structured as to make this belatedness central to the entire enterprise. This novel won a Locus Award in the young adult novel category. The first sequels, Shadow Captain (2019) and Bone Silence: The Third Book of Revenger (2019), carry the Revenger sequence deeper into the surreal Macrostructure of the series' all-absorbing venue.

Along with Iain M Banks, Reynolds is perhaps the most successful British Space Opera author of his generation. His storytelling verve, his embrace of the possibilities of science, and his knowledge of the genre's history make an undeniably compelling combination. Although he already has at least twenty books of interest to his credit, there is a strong sense that his most important work may be ahead of him. Some movement into more immediately pressing realms may be signalled by his shift to a Near Future venue in Permafrost (2019), with the planet nearing extinction through unchecked Climate Change; the narrative traces its female protagonist's attempts, via Time Travel, to subtly readjust a seemingly minor moment in 2028 and save the world. It is not certain that she succeeds.

In Eversion (2022), various AI-driven versions of writer and physician Silas Coade (see Brain in a Box) elegantly transact various genre modes – including a Jules Verne-like exploratory quest, a Steampunk trip via zeppelin (see Airships) into the Hollow Earth, a 1930s Space Opera featuring a blunderbuss use of force in the manner of E E Smith, and a mildly Parodic rendering of intricate high-tech teamwork in the manner of Reynolds himself – in a reiterated attempt to penetrate a dangerous, topologically-wrenching McGuffin Macrostructure known as the "Edifice" [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below], coming each time closer to the Conceptual Breakthrough required to grasp the nature of the vast Alien artifact buried in Europa (see Jupiter). His/its main companion, Ada, presents as a Temporal Adventuress (see also Ada Lovelace) as she nudzhes him to rewrite his continuing novel, whose outcome will determine the course of Eversion. In the end, both escape to a Virtual Reality Hilltop Cottage (evoking Grant Allen), in order to gain some respite before their termination. [DRL/JC]

see also: Albedo One; Antimatter; Black Holes; Dogs; Eastercon; Forerunners; Religion; Seiun Award; Sidewise Award; Space Elevator; Time Radio; Uplift.

Alastair Preston Reynolds

born Barry, Wales: 13 March 1966



Revelation Space/Inhibitors

novels and collections

Inhibitors: Prefect

Poseidon's Children

Doctor Who


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collections and stories


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