Inhibitor Phase


Alastair Reynolds


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

March 23, 2022

lastair Reynolds is one of the finest science fiction authors working today. Almost all of his novels that I have read impressed me (I didn't much like Terminal World). I think my favorite is House of Suns. Reynolds describes advanced technology in seemingly-plausible ways. It is fun to read about human civilizations spread throughout the nearby galaxy, even if the universe seems to be a dark and dangerous place. Inhibitor Phase is set in the same "universe" as his Revelation Space novels. In this future, humanity has accidentally come to the attention of the deadly Inhibitors: non-organic killing machines programmed to annihilate any signs of sentient life. The Inhibitors, often referred to as wolves, are self replicating, self assembling machines - when a sign of life is found, the Inhibitors gather, tiny cube-like motes that reproduce and grown into inexorable killing weapons.

In a nondescript red-dwarf system called Michaelmas, a colony of five thousand humans cling to a tenuous existence beneath the icy glaciers of the airless world of Sun Hollow. Their leader is Miguel de Ruyter - it is an uneasy existence; de Ruyter has just put down a faction of colonists who wished to expand, risking attracting the remorseless attention of the Inhibitors. Now a light-hugger has blundered into the Michaelmas system, the hibernating humans in cold storage doubtlessly wishing to replicate the same hiding trick that de Ruyter's colonists have already successfully employed. But the newcomer's bright ship will doubtlessly lead Inhibitors into this system - the incoming light-hugger must be destroyed, and it must look like an accident, so that the inhuman algorithms of the Inhibitors compute that there is no life at Michaelmas system. Miguel de Ruyter flies out on an interception course; it is his decision to destroy the incoming ship and murder all the sleeping humans. In this cold calculus, the hibernating humans must be sacrificed so the the Sun Hollow colony remains undetected. Because it is his decision, de Ruyter will fly the deadly interceptor, so that the crime is upon his own conscience.

In the Revelation Space "universe", the scattered remnants of human civilization have allies - hyperpigs and Conjoiners. Hyperpigs are porcine creatures created from human and pig genes, producing an intelligent species of pigs (why humans chose to create these creatures is not explained in this book). Conjoiners are humans who willing crafted mind-augmenting tech to their bodies that then evolved into a sort of "hive mind" - the Conjoiners have advanced tech, but different sensibilities than "normal humanity". Years ago, there was a war with the Conjoiners, but that was before the Inhibitors altered humanity's idea of what constituted a true threat. There are also alien species - the bizarre Pattern Jugglers (first introduced in Revelation Space - ocean dwelling entities that possess advanced, incomprehensible stored knowledge; and the Nestbuilders - an ancient alien species that long ago responded to the threat of the Inhibitors by developing advanced stealth capabilities - willing to hide for millenia in the hopes that Inhibitor threat ceases with the passage of eons.

Inhibitor Phase is a big book - 464 pages in the trade paperback edition that I read. It contains an abundance of advanced science ideas employed by the humans in their fight against the Inhibitors. Their spaceships have advance artificial intelligence, and 3D printers capable of constructing almost any object. Healing mechanisms that can keep human alive and greatly extend a normal lifespan. Hyper Quantum computing, sensors, cryo-algorithms - it sounds like a bunch of buzzwords when I list the ideas here, but in Reynolds story, these ideas seem plausible. The wolves never relent, and the humans resort to more and more desperate measures to fight back.

If I have any complaint about Inhibitor Phase, it is with the ending - so much still seems unresolved with the war with the Inhibitors that I wonder if a subsequent novel is forthcoming. Also, there is a long flashback sequence of a long-ago daring rescue on Mars, but this sequence didn't seem to reach a description the ultimate result of the rescue scheme.

I have not read all of Reynolds works, I should track down the books that I missed and give them a read.