Reviews

INHIBITOR PHASE (A Revelation Space novel), by Alastair Reynolds – #SciFiMonth

I received this novel from Orbit Books through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

It’s been a long time since I read Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space trilogy and I have to admit that I approached this new installment with some trepidation, because I know my memory of details and characters might be faulty: I saw that the author said Inhibitor Phase can be read as a standalone, and that’s partly true, because any reference to the previous works (and also the previous timeline of events) is offered in such a way as to provide enough information without need for lengthy and distracting explanations. 

Still, there is a number of details that surface now and then that can shed more light on the background if you are familiar with Revelation Space, and I was pleasantly surprised by the discovery that I remembered much more than I thought possible, which added to my enjoyment of the story.  Think of the difference in approach – according to your knowledge of Revelation Space or lack of it – as watching a movie in which the production hid some Easter eggs: old-time fans will recognize them and be delighted, but newcomers will enjoy the story nonetheless.

In the distant future envisioned by Alastair Reynolds, humanity scattered among the stars and made great progress, but encountered two huge dangers in its path: first the Melding Plague, a nanotech virus attacking both machinery and implants with horrifying consequences, particularly for those humans who had chosen to modify their bodies with augmentations. Centuries later, a worse threat manifested itself, that of the Inhibitors, also called “wolves”: hive-mind machines whose only goal was to annihilate any sentient life reaching beyond a certain level of technology. Inhibitor Phase starts a few decades after a devastating war that saw most of humanity succumb.

On the inhospitable world of Michaelmas, Miguel de Ruyter leads a small group of survivors living under the surface, hiding from Inhibitors by leaving as small a tech imprint as possible: when a ship in distress enters the system, Miguel tries to meet and destroy it before the wolves become aware of human activity, but the encounter propels him instead on a dangerous quest across the galaxy in search of a weapon that might one day tilt the balance in favor of humans and remove the Inhibitor threat once and for all. Miguel’s journey starts with something of a leisurely pace, but gains momentum and raises its stakes as it progresses, offering such surprises and revelations that often made me unsure about where the story would take me next – this is the main reason I’m struggling a little with this review because I don’t want to spoil anything: facing this novel with… innocence is indeed the best way to enjoy it.

Story-wise, Inhibitor Phase looks like a cross between a classic quest and a heist: the characters’ final goal is to procure a weapon from the secretive Nestbuilders, a weapon which might prove decisive in the battle against the Inhibitors, but to get there they need other items first, and some of them can only be obtained through dangers and sacrifice, which at times adds a layer of deep pathos to the adventure. There are elements of horror as well, particularly in the section in which the characters need to effect a dangerous exchange among the ruins of Chasm City, which was the background for a previous novel in the series: this encounter with the crime overlord – or rather lady, if you can use such term for this barbarous butcheress and her bloodthirsty Court of Miracles – is one of the most tense, most hair-raising passages in the whole novel.

Still, the adventure, the technological wonders and the obstacles to be overcome take second place in comparison with the personal journey facing the characters: identity is the main theme here, either hidden for personal reasons or convenience, or voluntarily suppressed to forget a dark past – I know I’m being cryptic here, but a few of the characters are not who they look on the surface, or who they think they are… Just as much as the quest for the Nestbuilders’ weapon forces the group to piece together information and parts, so the discovery of who they are, or were, is also a puzzle working slowly but steadily toward showing the reader the complete picture. What ties these different people together – even when they are wary or distrustful of each other – is their willingness to give everything they have to fulfill the goal of ridding the galaxy of the Inhibitor threat, and that spirit of sacrifice shows how much they value the survival of humanity and the potential for hope.

And speaking of humanity, be aware that this term has a far wider meaning here, because the people that once took off from Earth to venture into space have taken many forms in Reynolds’ universe, from the mind-linked Conjoiners to the cyborg-like Ultras. And yet one of the most human characters I encountered in Inhibitor Phase is a hyperpig, the result of past genetic manipulation and part of a race used for menial and dangerous tasks: Pinky (even though that’s not his real name) turned out to be my favorite, not in spite of but because of his gruff attitude that hid the psychological scars of a terrible past, and a great capacity for courage and selflessness. There is a magnificent sentence that defines Pinky perfectly: “You don’t have to be human to be people”, and it’s one that moved me deeply.

While I found that reading Revelation Space was a very immersive experience, sometimes it used to feel too much: too many characters to keep track of, too many narrative threads to follow, too much information – no matter how intriguing – to digest. This new novel in the saga appears almost streamlined when confronted with my recollection of the past, with a tighter pacing and only the barest details: in the end it makes for an enhanced reading experience and a totally engrossing story. I have no idea whether Reynolds intends to move forward with this story – although these premises are just begging to be developed – but if he decides to do so, I will be more than happy to see where he takes me next.

My Rating:

ARTWORK by Liu Zishan from 123RF.com

30 thoughts on “INHIBITOR PHASE (A Revelation Space novel), by Alastair Reynolds – #SciFiMonth

  1. I thought RS was way more than a trilogy. Hang on….
    ….. so, Absolution Gap was the final RS novel I read. There were 3 more books I read after that, but not that were further in the future. I stopped where the Inhibitors had globed humanity in green globes keeping them to individual star systems.

    Is this book before or after?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s in between. 🙂 The Greenfly stuff is at the end of Absolution Gap but that was also a huge jump into the future. This new book is more of a direct continuation of the timeline before the Greenfly stuff.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I agree with everything you’re saying. I thought this was a successful addition to the RS universe and I am looking forward to more. I heard that the next RS book on Reynolds’s list is a third Dreyfus book, a followup on Elysium Fire.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This review made me smile. I loved the Revelation Space trilogy and other books I’ve read by Reynolds, but I tend to really space them out, sometimes many years between each one. So right now I’m pretty behind. But I love hearing how you were able to get into this even though it’d been a while for you since the first books. It has me wanting to get back into gear and start reading his books again so I can catch up. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. If my TBR were not so woefully crowded (and getting worse with each passing day) I would just love to re-read the trilogy – and Chasm City as well – but every time I think about a re-read, for any book, I feel guilty about all the still-unread books in my queue… It’s a hard life, being a bookworm! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    2. This review makes me doubt my decision not to read Reynolds again. I loved the RS trilogy and House of Sun, but disliked a lot of his other works. Maybe I should give it ago, it has been ages since I got a good old fashioned space opera fix.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Looking at your criticisms, it doesn’t feel like those five stars.
    Pinky really stole the show! I‘d love to read of his other adventures.
    Concerning the amount of plot lines and characters, I beg to differ. It’s exactly how a story needs to be, woven densely. In our times, many novels drag things out endlessly just to produce a higher word count. One example for this is the Expanse which could be very well reduced to a third of its size without loosing much besides of filler words.
    Sorry to bother you with my unpopular opinion here, and especially with the take on Expanse which I remember that you liked very well.

    https://reiszwolf.wordpress.com/2021/08/26/inhibitor-phase-2021-space-opera-novel-by-alastair-reynolds/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Different opinions are what makes this community alive and vibrant: I’ve always enjoyed the various points of view from my fellow bloggers, even when they differed from mine, since there is always room for thought-provoking discussion. My main problem with the Revelation Space trilogy is that I need to refresh my memory of it and see how it fares after so many books have flown under the proverbial bridge, changing my tastes and attitudes 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This sounds brilliant. I have not read the first trilogy and that’s one reason I decided not to read this book. I’m working my way through a book right now that is just “too much”, lol, so I know what you mean. I’m glad this felt more streamlined!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Excellent review, Maddalena:)). You clearly enjoyed this one more than I did. While once again, I was amazed at Reynolds’ sheer inventiveness and the twists and turns the story took, I did feel the characterisation suffers, particularly where Miguel is concerned. But if I had the chance to read another book in the world – I’d definitely be there. No one writes quite like him…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s true that in this book plot tended to win over characterization (except maybe for Pinky, but I loved him, so I might not be exactly impartial here…) but the sheer level of *adventure* was able to make up for that from my point of view. And now we really need to know how the battle against the “wolves” moves forward… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Happy to see you enjoyed this so much. I haven’t read the trilogy and even though I noted your comments that it isn’t necessary before picking this up – I would probably run a mile. This is one of those books that scares me! I don’t know why.
    Lynn 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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