|Number in series||1|
|Followed by|| Chasm City|
Revelation Space is a 2000 science fiction space opera novel by Welsh author Alastair Reynolds. It was the first novel set in the Revelation Space universe, although the then-unnamed universe had already been established by several published short stories.
The novel reflects Reynolds's professional background: he has a PhD in Astronomy and worked for many years for the European Space Agency.
Revelation Space starts off with three seemingly unrelated narrative strands that eventually meet—and merge—as the novel progresses. This plot device is characteristic of many of Reynolds's works.
The book opens in the year 2551 on Resurgam, a planet considered a backwater on the edge of colonized human space. Dan Sylveste, an xenoarchaeologist, leader of the colony, and wealthy scion of a prominent scientific family, leads a team excavating the remains of the Amarantin, a long-dead, 900,000-year-old civilization that once existed on Resurgam. As a violent dust storm threatens to temporarily shut down the excavation, Sylveste discovers new evidence that the entire Amarantin race achieved a much higher level of technological sophistication than was previously known, before they were wiped out in a single mysterious cataclysm.
Next, the book jumps back to 2540, where most of the crew of the starship Nostalgia for Infinity are frozen for the journey to Yellowstone (in the Epsilon Eridani system) in order to find Sylveste. Because information is often decades old by the time it reaches other human settlements in a universe without faster-than-light travel, the crew does not realize it has been more than 15 years since Sylveste left Yellowstone to pursue archaeological work on Resurgam.
The Nostalgia for Infinity is an ancient ship that once carried hundreds of thousands, but now its crew is only a handful of Ultras—highly modified humans adapted to the rigors of long interstellar spaceflight. And they're desperate to find Sylveste because their captain has been infected with the Melding Plague, a virus that attacks human cells and machine nanotechnology in equal measure, perverting them into grotesque combinations. It's believed that only the technological expertise of the Sylveste family can help cure the captain.
Meanwhile, in 2524 in Chasm City, Yellowstone, professional assassin Ana Khouri is hired by a mysterious figure known as The Mademoiselle to infiltrate the crew of the Nostalgia for Infinity as it reaches orbit around Yellowstone. Khouri's new employer knows the ship will follow Sylveste to the edge of human space in an attempt to find a cure for its captain, and gives Khouri explicit orders to kill Sylveste once the Nostalgia for Infinity's crew have found him. Using subterfuge, this new employer is able to arrange a meeting twenty years later between Khouri and one of the ship's triumvirs, Ilia Volyova, making it appear as though the meeting happened by chance.
In 2566, after Khouri has successfully infiltrated the crew of the Nostalgia for Infinity as the ship's new gunnery officer, the ship arrives in orbit around Resurgam. Desperate to secure Sylveste's expertise to help cure their captain, triumvirs Volyova, Sajaki and Hegazi demand the fledgling Resurgam civilisation turn Sylveste over to them. When the government of the small human colony balks, Volyova reminds them of the power at the disposal of her massive ship by apparently wiping out one of the planet's settlements with a single discharge of the Infinity's weapons.
Fearing the consequences of defying the Ultras for a second time, and knowing full well the starship is capable of destroying all human life on the planet, Resurgam's government hands over Sylveste, who travels to orbit accompanied by his wife, Pascale.
Once aboard, however, Sylveste turns the tables—he informs the triumvirs that he has antimatter bombs hidden inside the implants in his artificial eyes. A detonation from one of those anti-matter bombs would be enough to destroy the Nostalgia for Infinity. Emboldened, Sylveste makes a deal with the crew—he will attempt to cure their captain in exchange for them using their ship to take him closer to Cerberus, a planet near Resurgam that carried particular significance for the Amarantin civilisation.
As Sylveste and the crew of the Nostalgia for Infinity approach Cerberus, Sylveste realizes the massive celestial body isn't a planet at all—but rather, a massive technological beacon, aimed at alerting machine sentience to the appearance of new star-faring cultures. It is this beacon, Sylveste belatedly realises, that alerted a machine intelligence known as the Inhibitors to the presence of the Amarantin, and ultimately caused the demise of that race. The beacon begins to activate and Sylveste detonates the bombs in his eyes to destroy the facility.
As this was Alastair Reynolds's first published hardback or hardcover fiction, and was published in a relatively small initial print run in the United Kingdom, it subsequently became a collectible first edition.