Preview Review: The Revelation

First off, a word on what I’m writing this new “feature” for. One of the best (and worst) features of many eBook retailers is the ability to download a preview version of a book. Typically this is the first 10-20% of the work. You can download that for free, see if you like the style, see if the story grabs you. Great for readers (bookshops often frown upon you reading their books without paying), terrible for authors who have to be sure to sell that book in the first chapter or two (but then, we’re supposed to sell it in the first couple ofpages).So, I download a fair few previews, I purchase fewer books. I don’t feel it’s fair to do a review of a book based on the preview I’ve read; I know I wouldn’t like that for one of my books. However, I figured it was fair to do a sort of review, where I give reasons for either going ahead and buying the book, or my reasons for rejecting it. So here’s the first of the Preview Reviews…

Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

I won’t be reading the rest of this one. I was looking for some sci-fi to read andRevelation Spaceand its sequels came up on several lists of good modern space opera. I’m sure it probably is, but it’s not making my reading list. And it’s a shame, because he’s a Welsh lad and I like supporting the home team.

So, why? I think the first strike against Revelation Space is the first character we meet, Dan Sylveste. I took an immediate dislike to this guy and he basically blew the book’s chances on page two. I could see the hook I was supposed to bite on; Sylveste is an archaeologist digging up evidence that an alien race may have done something spectacular and killed themselves in the process. As someone who loves science, science-fiction, and archaeology, I should be chewing on that hook like a Great White, but I’m not because Sylveste is a dick. He may be a great character, but by the end of the first chapter I’m hoping he’ll die in the space age sandstorm which is threatening his dig.

We meet a few other characters (none of them particularly likeable) and get the impression that there is a vast universe out there with weird stuff in it… just about. Despite comparisons to Iain M. Banks and William Gibson, Revelation Space comes across as inaccessible. Reynolds likes to throw out words and phrases which obviously mean something, but he isn’t going to explain so those enigmatic future-speak terms are just verbal hieroglyphics. They don’t give a “sense of wonder,” just a feeling that the author likes to think he’s smarter than the reader. The other thing that gives that impression is Reynolds’ tendency to drop complicated words for simple things into the text. In the first few pages I had to use my Kindle’s dictionary three times just to be sure of what he was saying, and my vocabulary isn’t that small.

So, sorry Mr Reynolds, I won’t be reading your books. If I want to read stuff like this, I’ll read Banks. The Scottish writer beats the Welsh one on this occasion.

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3 thoughts on “Preview Review: The Revelation

  1. Definitely useful things to remember there. In what I’m calling the 22cv setting (featuring Ameer Anwar and Astrid van Bergen, officers of the United Nations Police Force), there’s a lot of little terms that will come up as being common speak for the characters, so I’m trying to rely on them being the kind of thing that are easy to work out from context and the way the word is constructed (via portmaneaus and the ilk), and acronyms that are in or going to become part of common use now in the present (HUD, RFID, so on.)

    Character likeability is another factor to take into account. Well, maybe not ‘likeability’, but unless they’re supposed to be the kind of creation that makes you want to punch the page, it’s best to tone them down a little, especially if they’re going to be getting a lot of page space. That’s something I’ll have to deal with when writing Ameer. He’s coming into the UNPF from being a soldier and then working a basic research and analysis job to pay the bills, compared to the younger detective he finds himself partnered with, who went through the training academies and such. Not to mention cultural backgrounds and idiosyncrasies.

    • I don’t think all your characters have to be likeable. I do think leading with a character the reader wants to strangle isn’t a great idea. I got the impression this would be a bit like reading Lord of the Rings; I’d be rushing past the “Frodo and Sam” sections to get to the interesting bits because I couldn’t stand the character who was the primary protagonist.

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