Review of Inhibitor Phase, by Alistair Reynolds

Inhibitor Phase, Alistair Reynolds

I do love a good space opera. It can be daunting though, looking at the shelves of thick Peter F Hamilton books, all the many Culture novels from Iain M Banks, and Mr Reynolds himself has a huge oeuvre of Revelation Space-set stories.

Which is why I like a novel that whilst set in a pre-existing universe, with nods to other worlds, events and characters, can be read and enjoyed entirely standalone. It saves you having to Wikipedia the bibliography and work out what order you should read in, indeed if the book you are considering will make any sense to you at all.

I honestly could not put this down. I had it on my phone’s Kindle app and would find myself flicking to it to get another chapter in when I should have been doing something else!

The characters are well drawn, likeable, funny, utterly hateful, and fallible. The physical environments are detailed; you feel the claustrophobia and stress of people rubbing along together trapped inside Michaelmas. The strength and fear of travelling in a powerful but not infallible spaceship, looking over your shoulder in not quite empty enough space. The cloying tectonic gases, the chill of shadows, beautiful planetscapes, and horrible smells. You will squirm with visceral horror, and tip your head back and laugh.

There is an element of the Arthur C Clarke quote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” running through this book, but I found each weird and wonderful thing was treated so matter-of-factly at the time by at least some of the characters, that it didn’t push you out of the story. It was just how it was and that was that. You don’t have to understand something to benefit from it, or be endangered or changed by it.

I will definitely now read the next of his books that I have sitting on my shelves, waiting.

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