Inhibitor Phase Review: And out come the wolves!

Alastair Reynolds returns with his new stand-alone novel set in the world of Revelation Space…

Inhibitor Phase

The universe has been ravaged by ‘wolves’, a xenocidal hive-minded alien machine hellbent on the eradication of all other sentient life in Alastair Reynolds’ Inhibitor Phase. Yet scattered throughout the galaxy are pockets of survivors. Every attempt at resistance has failed and the war is all but lost. Those left behind have sought refuge on inhospitable planets, hidden from the view of prowling wolves.

For 40 years, Miguel de Ruyter has protected his community of survivors on the hostile and ravaged world Michaelmas. Ostracised and isolated from the remnants of humanity, the community have learned to shun outsiders for fear of insurgent invasion and inevitable annihilation.

When a signal is picked up on the outer limits of space, Miguel volunteers to investigate and intercept the potential new threat, with a mandate to eliminate it before it generates too much attention, attracting the hungry wolves to humanity’s last refuge.

When Miguel eventually makes contact, his mission doesn’t quite go to plan and he ends up rescuing a destroyed ship’s lone survivor only to find that their meeting was not necessarily by accident. Not only that, but this new visitor brings with her new insights and agendas which will crash into his world…

Inhibitor Phase unfolds stealthily, gently picking at ideas that have perhaps been explored deeper elsewhere in Reynolds’ series of books, yet still hang with enough intrigue and allure to tease you onto the next page. The novel itself covers an enormous scope, with interplanetary travel to new untouched territories as well as returning to familiar locations within the series.

We follow in first person and in sympathy as Miguel reels and recovers from each of the stranger’s new revelations, making the story a personal journey for both protagonist and reader. Each time Miguel is forced to adapt, to confront his desire to fight or flight and discover something new about himself, we’re right there with him.

Also, the ever-present overarching threat of the wolves never abates and Reynolds’ restraint at deploying their full force makes for an interesting background exploration into paranoia. However, that does mean there is a surprising lack of urgency to the pacing of the novel, as it casually meanders through the trappings of what is undeniably a complex and intelligently intersecting space opera. Despite being treated to numerous gunfights and daring deeds, it’s all executed with a somewhat muted level of swashbuckling.

The science and world building are richly constructed, and despite being slightly lean in detail, it is never too convoluted or devoid of explanation. Although billed as a standalone novel, there is no escaping that this is clearly a spin-off from a bigger world that will undoubtedly thrill and delight Reynolds’ fanbase. Unfortunately, this also means that those coming in cold to Reynolds’ Revelation Space may be frustrated by a perceived lack of depth and nuance, struggling to fully engage with a dynamic storyline that is not the smoothest entry point into this world…

Inhibitor Phase by Alastair Reynolds is out now from Gollancz. Order your copy here.