The genre of the space opera has been with us for a very long time. It's the typical big-orchestral-score SF that most people think of. The square-jawed military high-school quarterback type saves the alien princess from her jealous brother who is attempting to blah blah blah. Page turning reading, but not incredibly interesting beyond that.
However, Alastair Reynolds (wiki) wanted to change that. His writing melds the space opera subgenre with the hard SF subgenre, to produce technically accurate and even cutting edge science with people-oriented plot lines. This is especially true in his novel Revelation Space ( wiki )
When I say that Reynolds delves into some extremes of technology, I'm not kidding. What I like most is that he uses the science to move in some new directions. This was the first novel that I read where nanotechnology was really advanced beyond the basic concept that SF writers have been using for twenty years. I also really like the concept of the lighthugger--how, instead of making up some faster than light principle just to facilitate storytelling, he actually supposes that we never will get faster than light, and asks what types of technologies might arise around a vehicle that gets close to but can't exceed the speed of light. Because of that the lighthugger concept (especially the central lighthugger of the story, the wonderfully named The Nostalgia for Infinity) seems more "real" than other space craft (one of the defining characteristics of the space opera is a central, named, ship, nodding back to Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues as its prototype...think about Star Trek and its relationship to the Enterprise as an example).
Of all the technology that Reynolds explores, though, the one concept that really caught my attention was the idea of the Hell Class weapon . The planet buster. A doomsday device. This idea of a weapon so powerful that an entire planet isn't safe from it. What an amazing way to talk about the problems that come with nuclear proliferation, and now, the dissolution of major world powers into smaller, less stable states that still have those nuclear weapons on their soil. So here we have a lighthugger whose crew has managed to collect a large cache of these weapons. Think back to Star Wars and how terrifying it was that the Empire had one of these..and they only had ONE. Of all the subplots of the novel, this one really had my attention. Worse, many of these things have a rudimentary intelligence..they want to be activated and set loose.
The main character thinking about all these things is Volyova . Her main interest is to find a way to deal with these horrific things, which leads us into all the metaphorization about proliferation and disarmament . Unfortunately, it seems like Reynolds grew more interested in other characters, and the end of her storyline is the only major criticism I have of the series of novels. Of all the crew, she was the character I was most interested in. Because of how her storyline turns out (not to mention what happens to the Nostalgia for Infinity) I actually stopped reading the series and have yet to finish it. Still, though, I really recommend this novel, even if I can't so much recommend the others.