Inhibitor Phase by Alastair Reynolds
Gollancz, hb, £16.00
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Alien machines known as wolves have forced humanity into hiding. Scattered across the galaxies, humans survive in pockets, distrustful of outsiders and willing to do whatever it takes to protect themselves from discovery. For forty years, Miguel de Ruyter has made the uncomfortable decisions that have kept his group of survivors safe, hidden inside the desolate planet Michaelmas. Including destroying other ships that come into Michaelmas’s space.
After one such event, Miguel discovers a survivor and brings her to Michaelmas. But the survivor, Glass, is not all she seems and knows more than she is letting on. She wants Miguel to leave his loved ones and travel through space, searching for a piece of alien tech that will save everyone from the wolves. It is unlikely he will ever see his family again, and he must remember the past he has deliberately forgotten.
In a story that spans uninhabitable planets, the ruins of an empire and the alien Pattern Juggler waters, Miguel must face the atrocities he committed in a past life and find a way to make amends.
Inhibitor Phase is a return to Alastair Reynolds Revelation Space universe in a stand-alone novel exploring how we handle our past. From the start, we witness Miguel’s powerful inner strength that means he is willing to die and take thousands of people with him to save his small band of survivors. I ran cold when I realised Miguel’s intention. How far had humanity fallen to make that an appropriate response to another group of survivors coming into their space?
And the shocks don’t end there. Throughout, we are treated to crimes against other humans and species committed in the names of survival that are just plain cruel. They are described in un-glamourised language, taking us right to the heart of the characters’ horror and fear. In some cases, the events are nauseating, but we can’t look away because to do so would be to diminish the suffering caused. The theme feels very current as we explore our own past and what we have done to enhance our nation’s prosperity.
Unlike other books that claim to be “stand-alone”, Inhibitor Phase truly is. Reynolds gives you enough background if you are unfamiliar with the universe to understand what’s going on without bogging you down with details that aren’t relevant to this story. There was also a helpful timeline, key characters, glossary and endnotes at the back of the book, grounding Inhibitor Phase in the established universe. Useful for newcomers and those of us who haven’t read Revelation Space for a while.
Inhibitor Phase is an immensely fun yet challenging book, told in Reynold’s unique voice, sharp and clever, with fully realised characters that pull you along on their personal journey. There are no perfect heroes and no criminal masterminds. There are just people doing what they feel is best for them at the time. But it is also a story of hope that we, humans, can learn from our past and adapt for a better future.