As one of Alastair Reynolds’s more sarcastic characters, such as Scorpio the Hyperpig – or Triumvir Ilia Volyova – might say, ‘you don’t read Alastair Reynolds for the breakneck, frenetic pacing.’ His dialogue also tends towards the wordy. But you do read Alastair Reynolds for the jaw-dropping concepts.
In the case of Inhibitor Phase, the title promises to bring some kind of significant event – or maybe even a denouement – to this cosmic scourge, which is a huge drawcard. The Inhibitors emerged as the main protagonists of Reynolds’s Revelation Space Trilogy, sort of like souped-up versions of Fred Saberhagen’s Berserkers or the Doomsday Machine from the Star Trek TOS episode of the same name.
The story starts promisingly enough with an unexpected visitor to a colony in hiding from the Inhibitor machines and a tense negotiation for one of the colonists to take a trip to find a possible weapon against them. There’s also a nice ‘memory story’ that is returned to frequently by one of the characters when they enter hypersleep, which is very entertaining (and more action-packed).
The main story then settles into a sort of ‘greatest hits’ tour where the ship visits places and people familiar to readers of the original trilogy and has a bit of a run in with the Inhibitors on the way. But after that, the assembled group of travellers moves to another familiar planet and the clear and present threat from the Inhibitors falls to zero, which – coupled with the aforementioned lack of pace – means the story is robbed of all tension. There are also a hell of a lot of coincidences that multiply to the point where you’d think the galaxy was no larger that a small English village. The main characters can’t cough without running into an old acquaintance or a vital piece of information to help them find the maguffin that will – possibly – stop the Inhibitors.
They reach their destination and the descriptive passages get more and more detailed, slowing the plot even further until – finally – it’s over. But if you thought it would deliver something definitive about the Inhibitor Phase, you’d be mistaken. This is not the end. It’s not even the beginning of the end, but it may be etc. etc. There are some really fantastic ideas here. You just need to put up with the prose.