Among the reasons people read fiction is escapism. As a reader of science fiction, I can think of few sub-genres that server that purpose better than space opera. Space opera stories are ones in which the narrative emphasis is on melodramatic adventure. Space opera settings include locations usually associated with outer space, like spaceships and other planets. The stories are usually grand in scope (as measured in distance, time and/or number of characters) and offer endless corners in which authors can write their stories. They're also just plain fun to read.
The "space opera" label was originally used as a pejorative when it was coined by Wilson Tucker in 1941 to refer to the "outworn spaceship yarn". It wasn't long before space opera redeemed itself and became a favorite sub-genre of sf fans. (For a terrific selection of space opera stories that showcase the evolution of Space Opera stories, check out the massive anthology The Space Opera Renaissance edited by Kathryn Cramer and David G. Hartwell.) There have been many space opera series over the past few decades that have served readers well, providing hours of immersive escapism and stellar world building. One of the most rewarding ongoing space opera series is the Revelation Space series by Alastair Reynolds.
The REVELATION SPACE Universe
Simply put, the Revelation Space series depicts a fictional future of mankind. It consists of several novels and short stories set between the year 2200 (or thereabouts) and 40,000 AD. Most of the novels take place between the 25th and 28th centuries and involve the conflicts experienced by humankind, sometimes with alien species. Many of the novels take place near Yellowstone, a planet orbiting the star Epsilon Eridani and locus of thousands of space habitats, many of them planet-sized places of wonder all on their own. The habitats of the so-called Glitter Band form a Democratic Anarchy, meaning that each habitat governs itself and offers citizens the ability to vote through their neural implants. Since crime is rare, the main job of the judiciary comprised of Prefects is to investigate crimes related to voting.
Reynolds tempers the urge to go wild with the usual tropes of early space opera. For example, in the Revelation Space series, humans lack the technology for faster-than-light travel which many sf stories use as a convenient way to transport characters between places in a timely fashion. Chalk that up to the author's background in astronomy. Reynolds opts instead for grounded, plausible science over magic-like technology. Which is not to say that the series lacks any imagination—quite the opposite; the stories in the Revelation Space universe are packed with mind-expanding ideas, cool technologies, mysterious space artifacts, and many factions of humans and aliens—like the mechanical race known as the Inhibitors—all of which keeps you coming back for more gripping excitement. They are also told in a gothic tone that lends itself to the overall entertainment value of the stories.
The REVELATION SPACE Stories
The Revelation Space Universe began in the pages of short fiction in 1990. The novels started appearing ten years later and they're still going strong, too. (The newest novel, Elysium Fire, was just released.)For those looking to dive into this series, know that not all of the Revelation Space novels are direct sequels. I've noted sequences below. If you're looking for a great place to start, go with the standalone novel Chasm City.
NOVELS – Standalone
- Chasm City (2001) – The once utopian Chasm City, full of technological marvels, has since succumbed to the vicious virus known as the Melding Plague. An outstanding standalone novel.
NOVELS – Inhibitor Sequence
- Revelation Space (2000) - In Reynolds imaginative debut novel, the future of the human colonists of the Amarantin home world may be linked to the mystery surrounding the disappearance of its native population almost a million years before.
- Redemption Ark (2002) – In this sequel to Revelation Space, the human race accidentally triggers alien machines designed by the Inhibitors to detect intelligent life and destroy it.
- Absolution Gap (2003) - In this sequel to Redemption Ark, a ragtag group of humans gamble that the way to defeat the killing machines of the Inhibitors may be to ally with a being even more dangerous.
NOVELS – Prefect Dreyfus Emergencies Sequence
- The Prefect (2007) – The start of a riveting new sub-series that's equal parts mystery and wonder, The Prefect is about the investigation of law enforcement officer Tom Dreyfus into the deadly attack on one of the ten thousand space habitats orbiting the planet Yellowstone. (This was recently re-released in the U.K. under the title Aurora Rising.)
- Elysium Fire (2018) – In this just-released sequel to The Prefect, Dreyfus tries to find out why people are dying suddenly and randomly due to an unprecedented malfunction of the neural implants that are so critical to their way of life…and do so before the near-perfect democratic society collapses under panic.
Like his novels, Reynolds short fiction stories are notable for their tightly-plotted, page-turning qualities. Some of them are even available as free online reads.
- "Dilation Sleep" (1990)
- "A Spy in Europa" (1997)
- "Galactic North" (July 1999)
- "Great Wall of Mars" (2000)
- "Glacial" (2001)
- "Diamond Dogs" (2001)
- "Turquoise Days" (2002)
- "Weather" (2006)
- "Grafenwalder's Bestiary" (2006)
- "Nightingale" (2006)
- "Monkey Suit" (2009)
- "The Last Log of the Lachrimosa" (2014)
- "Night Passage" (2017)
- "Open and Shut" (2018, takes place between The Prefect and Elysium Fire)
Most of the short fiction stories above can be found in the following collections of Reynold's stories (and in various anthologies; see here for a full bibliography):
- Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days (2003)
- Galactic North (2006)
- Deep Navigation (2010)