‘Nostalgia for Infinity’Hard Determinism and Hard Science in Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space Sequence

Type Article
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-81
Number of pages18
JournalScience Fiction Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2019
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The Revelation Space sequence of Welsh author Alastair Reynolds (b.1966) reads at first as the epitome of so-called hard science fiction, that popular sub-genre of space opera ‘that gets its science right and has a certain hard-nosed attitude’. The sequence contains the loose trilogy of novels Revelation Space (2000), Redemption Ark (2002), and Absolution Gap (2003), standalone novels Chasm City (2001) and The Prefect (2007), as well as the twin novellas Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days (2003) and the short story collection Galactic North (2006). Set largely during the years 2200 and 2727 (but with the story ‘Galactic North’ concluding in 40,000 AD), the Revelation Space sequence initially confounds reader expectations about individual and group agency and instead seems to propose the irrelevance of free will as a narratological expression of the inviolable physical laws governing Reynolds’s fictional universe. The deterministic nature of the Revelation Space sequence is an aspect of Reynolds’s writing which sets him apart from many contemporaneous space opera authors. Nonetheless, a conflict exists between the inability of his immediate protagonists to alter the fate of the Human race over vast timeframes and the compatibilist (or softly deterministic) efforts of other faceless, futuristic human factions to actively ensure their survival by manipulating the past. Despite the prevalence of deterministic principles, the actions of such figures – in line with current thinking in theoretical physics – suggests that the conscious decisions and consequent actions of individuals and groups can indeed have an appreciable impact, if only on a multi-universal scale, and so Reynolds’s Revelation Space sequence proposes a credible compromise between the determinism described by classical physics and the ‘mere randomness’ offered by quantum mechanics.