Inhibitor Phase – by Alastair Reynolds (Review)

Revelation Space Universe
Inhibitor Sequence #4

Scifi, Space Opera

Orbit; October 12, 2021 (US)
Gollancz; August 26, 2021 (UK)

454 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to Gollancz and many, many thanks to Orbit Books for providing me with a lovely, physical ARC! This in no way affects my partiality, or my cynicism. All opinions are my own.

Please Beware Minor Spoilers for the Revelation Space Universe.

224 years after the reappearance of the Inhibitors, humanity has become an endangered species, hiding in the galaxy’s darkest corners. Miguel de Ruyter lives on the airless world of Michaelmas—a godforsaken, pockmarked world at the edge of known space. Here, hidden in caves deep below the surface, humanity ekes out an existence. Three thousand people call Sun Hollow home, making it the largest known human settlement in space. Though for de Ruyter, it’s the only known human settlement.

But things are about to change.

When de Ruyter heads topside to destroy a colony ship—worried that the Wolves (the Inhibitors) will detect the presence of so many humans, the people of Sun Holloware prepared to destroy the newcomers before the they bring the Wolves down on Michaelmas—he comes away from the ship with a startling discovery. A lone sleeper casket, fortunate to survive the explosion. More fortunate still, the occupant, a woman known only as Glass, seems in good health if rattled by the experience. But when de Ruyter returns her to Sun Hollow all that changes.

It appears that Glass was not the desperate refugee that de Ruyter had taken her for. Within days of landing on Michaelmas, she has the colony on its knees, defenseless before her. They can refuse her nothing, but Glass only wants one thing from Sun Hollow: Miguel de Ruyter.

One man in exchange for the colony. And if de Ruyter agrees to go quietly, they’ll undertake the mystery that Glass came to Michaelmas to solve. The enigma of the Knights of Cydonia, a way to defeat the Inhibitors, a lost world known only as Charybdis, and the long-dead Nevil Clavain.

“Why’d you shoot it?”
I glared at him. “Would you rather I
hadn’t shot it?”
“I’d rather those other ones weren’t suddenly taking an interest in us.”

On the whole, Inhibitor Phase was an excellent read, just what I was hoping for for my return to the Revelation Space universe. I’ve only read the opening novel, Revelation Space, which only just hints at the wolves’ existence—but I still found this a satisfying continuation of the universe. Additionally, I think that new readers won’t have to hard of time of things. Inhibitor Phase doesn’t throw you in the deep end; instead building the universe from the ground up from the safety of an isolated haven before introducing the universe and history at large. If you’re a fan of the series you’ll probably know all these things already, but shouldn’t be too put off by the amount of hand-holding it does in the opening Part One.

Inhibitor Phase is written in first-person POV, and told over seven distinct Parts, which take place over a total of about 60 years. There’s a helpful glossary and timeline at the end, as well as a list of key characters and note on chronology. I used these all the time to square what I remembered with what I was being told—and it’s an incredibly helpful detail to have along. The events within are set after most of what happens in Absolution Gap (which I’ve heard is depressing), and while the tone isn’t completely positive, it’s certainly more so than not at all.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Inhibitor Phase! The story flows along really nicely after it departs Sun Hollow, and I had absolutely no problem getting along with the story. It reads quick and to the point, with a bit of flair, a bit of drama, and a bit of pace. In all honesty, I think it could get away with being 50% longer. I actually kinda felt that it glossed over some things in the interest of time; things that could’ve really become an adventure all in their own right instead of a footnote in another. But I know why it was done this way, and it’s really quite a good read the way it was written. But the best stories always leave you wanting more, and that’s what Reynolds does here. The plot flows quite nicely, with barely an issue—until the events of Part 6 (which will remain nameless in anticipation of spoilers). Then it takes some interesting license. And the story loses some of its cohesion. And don’t get me started on the ending. So… I know what they were trying to do. It all makes sense, in general, generally, on the whole. But explicitly… I have no idea what was going on. Everything just starts leaping all over the place.

While Inhibitor Phase is somewhat of a serious book—I mean, it has to do with the possible extinction or survival of humanity—it’s not without its fair share of humor. Which I found… good, I guess? Funny. Entertaining. Reynolds doesn’t do humor like Andy Weir. Or like Peter F. Hamilton. Or like Becky Chambers. Like so many other authors out there, he has his own peculiar brand of humor which you’ll either like or hate, either have to get used to or won’t.

“It isn’t as bad as it sounds.”
“You’re not stupid, and I’m reasonably sure you’re not suicidal. Explain how this helps us.”
“Good—at least you’re being open-minded. The fact is, we’re only considering a brief dip into the photosphere of the star: barely different to skimming the atmosphere of a planet.”
“Except it’s a star.”
“Don’t get too hung up on that. The photosphere is merely a transitional zone where the mean free paths for photon collisions undergo a large change. From
Scythe’s point of view, it will be no different to moving from plasma environment to a somewhat denser, more excited environment containing the same plasma.”
“Except it’s a
star,” I repeated.

TL;DR

Inhibitor Phase continues the Revelation Space Universe and Inhibitor Sequence Arcs in a very different way than the previous de facto concluding Absolution Gap (which, to be fair, I haven’t read but I’ve heard many things about—mostly that it’s depressing). Inhibitor Phase is a serious book, but there’s humor in it too. In fact, if the survival of humanity wasn’t at stake, I’d class it as a story about adventure, or a mystery to to solved. And solve it it does—to a quite satisfying degree over the course of its 7 separate Parts, 34 chapters and 450-odd pages. While a little artistic and scientific license is taken at the end, on the whole this is an immensely entertaining, satisfying read that I have no issue recommending to both old-timers and those new to Revelation Space. And I can’t wait to see where the series goes from here!

Welcome to Revelation Space – The Beautiful World of Books

One of the hallmarks of modern space opera, Revelation Space has been around for nearly twenty years, having first been published in 2002. While I’ve read remarkably few of this series, even I can’t deny the effect that it’s had on recent science fiction and space opera. While Alastair Reynolds pens each book as its own complete adventure, the overarching plot is set on a scale much grander, so that it doesn’t take much digging in to the series to realize that there’s more going on than what meets the eye.

Seven full-length novels have been published to date, of these there have been one standalone (Chasm City), two in the Dreyfus Emergencies, and then four in the Inhibitor Sequence—the most recent being Inhibitor Phase, released just this year. There’ve also been a number of novellas and shorts set in the same universe, many of which have been collected within the two omnibus editions found below. Since Inhibitor Phase is one of the books I have on tap for Sci-Fi Month, I figured this would be the perfect time to feature some cover art, while at the same time introducing the universe in a bit more detail.

The Inhibitor Sequence

Revelation Space

Redemption Ark

Absolution Gap

Say what you will about the Orbit reissues (on the right), but I’m intimately familiar with the Ace covers and vastly prefer them. For the first two, at least. I hadn’t started (or acquired) Absolution Gap yet and somewhat like the blue gas giant when compared to the scarred ice world. It doesn’t help that the craft on the Ace cover of Book #3 is so indistinct.

Inhibitor Phase

I’m currently reading this one and vastly prefer the sleek Orbit cover complete with dark ice and/or water with a planetary corona in the background. Nothing wrong with the Gollancz cover—it might actually be the only one I’ve seen with a Yellowstone that’s actually yellow.

Oh wait—that’s a star. Well, it features the Scythe prominently, at least.

Dreyfus Emergencies

Aurora Rising

Here we have three covers of the same book, each with a very different style! Additionally, the 2007 original issue of Aurora Rising actually bore the title The Prefect, before it was changed for additional release. I have no idea why it was changed, or when for that matter. I haven’t read this series, and can only guess what each publisher was thinking with each (very different) cover.

Prefect Fire

Here we have the Orbit vs. Gollancz covers of Elysium Fire. Only the two this time. Now, say what you will about the Orbit cover (at left), but personally I like this minimalist style and would probably choose it over the Gollancz edition. That said… at least the Gollancz cover features Tom Dreyfus, who bears the series’ name. When confronted with that tidbit, the Orbit cover just can’t measure up.

Standalones

Chasm City

Chasm City is a enclosed-environment city on the planet Yellowstone. And while these covers are two different takes on Yellowstone, neither shows the city itself. Which is disappointing, honestly. I mean, I’m quite partial to the reissue cover from Orbit (on the right)—with the planet and nebulae behind it—as opposed to the original Ace cover (to the left), but I would’ve liked to see something of the city itself rather than some generic (if lovely) planetary shots.

Novellas & Collections

Galactic North

Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days

Here we have the Ace covers for the novella collections, with Galactic North (the omnibus) and Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days (just those two novellas). Since it’s the same style throughout, I won’t over-analyze them. Although, I swear that’s the Pirate Starbridge from the Escape Velocity series (in both Glactic North covers)—anyone know? EV Nova is one of my all-time favorite games. Anyone else played those?

Anyway… books, covers. Ahem. So… has anyone read these? I know several of you have—Todd and Maddalena to start with. What did you think, is the series worth continuing with? I was so-so on Revelation Space but have been enjoying Inhibitor Phase more (at least so far).