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Revelation Space is the first novel in the Hard Sci-Fi Space Opera series of the same name, by Alastair Reynolds.

The book opens in the year 2551, on the planet Resurgam. Resurgam is considered a technological backwater on the edge of colonized human space. Founded only decades before, the colony has not yet had time to significantly terraform the planet; thus, the majority of it is still a barren wasteland, devoid of life. Dan Sylveste, an archaeologist, leader of the colony, and wealthy scion of a prominent scientific family, leads a team excavating the remains of the Amarantin, a long-dead primitive civilization that once existed on Resurgam over nine hundred thousand years prior. As a violent dust storm threatens to temporarily shut down the excavation, Sylveste discovers new evidence that the Amarantin achieved a much higher level of technological sophistication than was previously known...before they were wiped out in a single mysterious cataclysm.

Meanwhile, the ship Nostalgia for Infinity is enroute to the planet Yellowstone on a mission to find Sylveste. The ship is an ancient "lighthugger", designed to slowly accelerate for years on end until it is traveling at close to the speed of light; lighthuggers spend decades cruising between the stars. Initially the Nostalgia For Infinity once carried hundreds of thousands of colonists in cryogenic suspension units. Now its crew is only a handful of Ultras — highly-modified humans adapted to the rigors of long interstellar spaceflight. They're desperate to find Sylveste because their Captain has been infected with the "Melding Plague", a (possibly alien) virus that attacks nanotechnology and living cells in equal measure, perverting and warping them into grotesque combinations. It's believed that only the technological expertise of the Sylveste family can help cure the Captain. But 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 found the colony on Resurgam...

On Yellowstone itself, a professional assassin named Ana Khouri has been hired by a mysterious figure known as The Mademoiselle. Her mission? To infiltrate the crew of the Nostalgia for Infinity once it reaches 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, at all costs, once the Nostalgia for Infinity's crew have found him.

Due to the time dilation effects of light-speed travel, the novel juxtaposes three different plotlines as happening concurrent with each other, despite being separated by decades. The whole thing is set against the backdrop of Reynold's expansive and complex universe, which the novel introduces.

This novel provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Absent Aliens: Revelation Space is littered with examples of this, though the reasons for why are only hinted at towards the end of the novel. The sequels further explore and explain this.
  • Action Girl: Both Ilia Volyova and Ana Khouri, verging at points into Back-to-Back Badasses.
  • Alien Geometries: The Shrouds. Spacetime near the "edges" is under a constant state of flux, meaning that any ship that attempts to approach is torn apart by the wildly shifting tidal forces.
    • Also, the Inhibitor "Jewel" at the center of the mysterious planet orbiting Hades. When Sylveste first sees it, it appears to be rotating in the center of a chamber. However, as he proceeds straight towards it, it appears to him that the walls of the chamber are rotating, while the Jewel is fixed, implying that the Jewel is dragging spacetime around it.
  • Ambiguously Brown: Ana Khouri. Though concerning her roots on Sky's Edge and her given name, she probably has South American ancestry. (The surname is her husband's, who is of Middle Eastern descent.)
  • Anachronic Order: Literally; the different plotlines take place decades apart and later combine (or rather, the earlier ones "catch up" to the latest one) due to relativistic time-dilation.
  • Cool Old Guy: Played with Sylveste. He's been alive for hundreds of years due to relativistic space travel, but that doesn't really count due to hibernation and time dilation. However, even accounting for that, he's subjectively in his sixties.
  • Badass Normal: A lot of the main characters, but Volyova probably takes the cake. MacGyvering ? Check. Batman Gambits ? Check. Deadpan Snarker ? Check. Smoking Is Cool ? Double check.
  • Badass Longcoat: Ana Khouri wears one while on a Shadowplay assasination assignment in Chasm City. They're also popular on Sky's Edge, where she was born.
  • Big Dumb Object: Several:
    • The sealed advanced Amarantin city is initially presented as this; it's a gargantuan shell surrounded by solid rock.
    • The mysterious planet orbiting Hades is revealed to actually be an immense Amarantin artifact. When Sylveste and the gang manage to get inside, they discover that it's composed of layers and layers of different Amarantin defenses, like several Big Dumb Objects all stacked around each other in a kind of Matrioshka doll.
    • And, of course, at the end when it's revealed that the neutron star Hades is actually a giant alien supercomputer.
  • Body Horror: The effects of the Melding Plague.
  • Body Snatcher: Calvin's ability to take over Dan's body (with Dan's permission) to perform a complicated surgery.
  • Brain Uploading: The backstory mentions a group of people known as "The Eighty" who were the first to attempt Brain Uploading. They all died (well, technically, their simulations were corrupted or went irreversibly insane).
    • Dan Sylveste's father, Calvin Sylveste, was one of the Eighty, and presumably is dead as well. However, Dan has a slight-lesser-quality simulation of Calvin (a "beta-level", as opposed to an "alpha level" like the Eighty) that proves to be frighteningly convincing.
      • Actually, we find out later that Dan "sold" his father's alpha level simulation to the pattern jugglers in order to give Dan the right brain patterns in order to enter the shroud.
  • Capital City: Chasm City on the old colony world of Yellowstone seems to the de-facto capitol of Human space. At least, until the Melding Plague devastates it.
  • Casual Interstellar Travel: Averted hard. It takes decades to get between stars, and even getting a ride on a Lighthugger is rare outside of the core planets like Yellowstone. Border worlds may have a Lighthugger drop by only after a couple decades.
  • Cool Starship: The Nostalgia For Infinity
  • Crystal Spires and Togas: Chasm City, at least until the Melding Plague ruins everything.
  • Cyborg : A lot of the future factions of humanity have Transhumanist trappings, at least as far as having with various brain implants. The Conjoiners are a whole society of these, the Ultras and Demarchists less so.
  • Culture Chop Suey : A given, with humanity being quite a cosmopolitan mix during the events of the trilogy, especially on old and densely inhabited colony worlds like Yellowstone. Nationalities play a far lesser role than back on Earth and the main new political and social divisions are purely ideological factions (such as the Conjoiners, the Demarchists, the Ultranauts, etc.). Some characters' names give obvious hints about a great mixing of nationalities.
    • Yellowstone is a cosmopolitan mix of a planet, settled mostly by American, European and East Asian colonists. Sky's Edge was settled by Latin American, Middle Eastern and Central Asian nationalities.
  • Death World: The All Planets Are Earthlike trope gets a major kick in the shins in this series. The most Earth-like planet mentioned is Sky's Edge, which is full of hostile life that is biologically incompatible with Earth life. Eating it will kill you (and vice versa) or do nothing. Then there are the Pattern Jugglers - algae-like Starfish Aliens inhabiting planets with global oceans - that usually act benign, but once in a while someone who swims with them doesn't come back, comes back wrong, or worse. Also, Yellowstone, the most important and most populated interstellar colony of humanity, has an atmosphere and surface very similar to Saturn's moon Titan, so only the giant domed settlements (like Chasm City or Loreanville) and orbital habitats are actualy populated. Pretty much all planets in the series are either uninhabitable, barely habitable (without advanced tech) or habitable, but full of Everything Trying to Kill You.
  • Death From Above: Threatened by Volyova in Revelation Space, who uses one of her ship's smallest weapons to devastating effect as a warning to the inhabitants of Resurgam. She also has access to teratonne-yield nukes and "hell class" weapons that could conceivably shatter worlds.
  • Dramatic Unmask: When Dan finds Sajaki's empty powersuit, revealing that the "Sajaki" he thought had been accompanying him and talking to him was actually the Sun Stealer.
  • Electronic Eyes: Dan Sylveste. At first he has advanced eyes that are able to record all that he sees and playback later for review, along with taking snapshots and live-zooming. Later, though, his eyes are damaged and are repaired with local parts on Resurgam, leading to a terrible security-cam-like vision (i.e. black and white, slow framerate, etc).
  • Eternal English : Averted. Though the stories are all in English via Translation Convention, it is clearly stated that human languages 500 years in the future have continued to further evolve. Notable examples are the two main languages: Norte and Can-asian. In a throwaway comment, Volyova refers to her native language as "Russish" (presumably some descendant of Russian).
  • Fantastic Slurs : Yellowstonian Demarchists call Conjoiners "spiders" and rogue Demarchists, Skyjacks and Ultras "zombies". The "spider" nickname was also used by the Coalition for Neural Purity seen in the chronologically earliest installments of the series. Conjoiners refer to baseline humans as "the retarded".
    • In-Series Nickname : The Yellowstonians (and apparently people from other terrestrial planets as well) often refer to themselves as "Stoners".
  • Forgotten Superweapon: The "Cache Weapons" aboard Nostalgia for Infinity. They're also known as "Hell-Class" weapons.
  • Grand Theft Me: What the Captain did to Sajaki prior to the events of Revelation Space.
    • Though it technically is more of a Body Snatcher example, as the "host" mind is overwritten and effectively "killed".
    • Also played straight and subverted by Calvin Sylveste, who had originally engineered Dan Sylveste as a clone of himself to make it easier to possibly imprint a copy of himself into Dan's brain. While he does do this near the end of the book (and had already done it once previously), it's more of a two minds/one body relationship.
  • Gratuitous Russian : Volyova, but only when she gets particularly frustrated or angry (so it's mostly limited to swear words or snarky comments).
  • Grey Goo: Played with the Melding Plague. It absolutely devastates Chasm City, horrible killing thousands of people and mutating the affected landscape. Subverted in that it only attacks nanotech, meaning that normal matter (and baseline humans without any nanotech in their body) are completely unaffected.
  • Gun Porn: The "Warchive" aboard the Nostalgia for Infinity, which can reproduce any weapon from recorded human history. Volyova and Khouri make good use of it at the end of novel, when they need to arm themselves.
  • Human Popsicle: Most starship passengers, as it's either cryo or spend years or decades awake between stars.
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: Shadowplay, in which the bored, virtually immortal residents of Chasm City are hunted by professional assassins according to pre-agreed rules. The game is set up so most of the clients survive, in order that people will keep paying for the thrill-seeking experience.
  • Insistent Terminology: "Servitors" for robots (non-sentient worker ones, but still).
    • What are these "cryogenics" you speak of? They're called "reefersleep", dammit ! And flying cars are "volantors", get it?
  • Meanwhile in the Future: A given, with all the Time Dilation and Anachronic Order going on.
  • More Than Mind Control: When it's not simply driving it's hosts mad, the Sun Stealer's influence on people is implied to be this. For example, Dan Sylveste's urge to go to Resurgam, despite there being no good reason to go there, let alone found a colony and begin archaelogical digs.
    • Also implied with Calvin and Dan's relationship. Dan somehow never seems aware that he is Calvin's clone (he still believes the entire time that he is just Calvin's son), despite all the other important and odd details he knows (such as the fact that Calvin can take over his body like a puppeteer). Also, despite their antogonistic relationship, Calvin seems to have an undue influence on Dan's decisions.
  • Mysterious Antarctica / Grim Up North: Much of Resurgam is like this, due to still being largely unpopulated and partially terraformed.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: What Dan Sylveste and the Nostalgia's crew unwillingly put into motion at the end of Revelation Space.
  • Non-Action Guy: Dan Sylveste. He is a main character, and is certainly around a lot of action, but largely avoids most of it himself.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist : Dan Sylveste and his father, Calvin.
  • Powered Armor : The "suits" are a very versatile example of this trope. Powerful enough to probably wipe out an entire modern-day army. Slightly subverted in that the suit will "take over" if it deems the situation too dangerous to trust to relatively-slow human reflexes (at which point the person inside becomes little more than glorified cargo).
  • Projected Man : Many of the "entoptic" simulations and personal avatars are presented as this.
  • Shown Their Work: Reynolds is a former astronomer and a former ESA employee.
  • Space Does Not Work That Way : Averted all the way. Related to the Shown Their Work entry.
  • Spirit Advisor: The Mademoiselle's beta-level sim in Ana Khouri's implants. Also, Calvin's simulation to Dan, once Calvin figures out how to get around various safeguards and pop into Dan's visual field whenever he wants to...
  • Title Drop: "Revelation Space" refers to the region of spacetime around a Shroud; the one person who survived a close encounter later describes having alien knowledge downloaded into his brain.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Surprisingly averted with Dan Syvleste. Despite everything, he never seems to discover or find out that he's not actually Calvin's son but his clone. Made even odder by the fact that multiple other characters do know this about Dan; it never seems to be brought up. Possibly implied to be More Than Mind Control on the part of Calvin as a way of purposefully keeping Dan ignorant.
  • The Everyman: Ana Khouri is the most ordinary of the main cast. Unsurprisingly, she's also technically The Hero.