Factions in Revelation Space
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Spacefaring humanity is divided among these four main factions. While each of these factions has its roots in the Solar System, they have spread with humans to multiple other star systems. Demarchists controlled most major colony worlds, including Yellowstone, until the introduction of the Melding Plague. Conjoiners inhabited hollowed out asteroids on system peripheries, called Nests, before the move to the central Mother Nest in the Yellowstone system during the Conjoiner-Demarchist war. Ultras prefer living aboard the massive lighthugger ships, and are generally uncomfortable on terrestrial worlds. Skyjacks are comet and asteroid miners.
Conjoiners or the Conjoined (pejoratively referred to by outsiders as spiders) are a faction based around mental augmentation and communication, and the advancement of the human mind. Early experiments by the Conjoiner matriarch Galiana and her group on Mars in the early 22nd century with the uses of technology in augmenting consciousness prompted her to begin experimenting with allowing her subject's implants to communicate — triggering the event known as the Transenlightenment, and the beginnings of the Mother Nest and of the Conjoiners. After losing a war with the remainder of humanity, the first Conjoiners later escape the Solar System with the help of Nevil Clavain and colonise other star systems. They then progress to a technological level considerably ahead of the rest of humanity, although still far behind many alien cultures in nearby space. The Conjoiners function as a single society for centuries, before the events of Redemption Ark result in them splintering into numerous factions and disappearing from the affairs of baseline humanity by the time of Absolution Gap, by which point they are engaged in the war with the Inhibitors. With the "Rise of the Greenfly", other human factions are wiped out, leaving an isolated enclave of Conjoiners as the last humans in the galaxy, along with the Ultranaut Irravel. Even they are forced to flee eventually, as the Greenflies' grip on the galaxy increases.
Conjoiners use technology to create a localised group mind. Individual identities are retained, but the group generally functions as a single unit working harmoniously toward its goals. All Conjoiners possess, at the minimum, a net of nanomachines that mimic their host's brain structure and augment the host's neural capabilities. Artificial enhancements such as vision overlays are not uncommon, and Conjoiners can communicate neurally through fields generated by their implants, which may or may not be amplified by background systems depending on the situation. Most Conjoiners use only neural communication with other Conjoiners and do not physically speak or visibly emote. Their implants also offer them a host of other abilities, such as the ability to interface with, hack into, and otherwise use a considerable amount of computerised machinery; they had little trouble overriding most software security protocols save their own, and any computer-embedded device (which, in Revelation Space, is virtually all extant technology) that was not strictly air gapped (and even some that were otherwise simply vulnerable to remote tampering via electromagnetic fields) were vulnerable to control or takeover by even Conjoiner children.
Many Conjoiner technologies were designed in unusual ways that grew from Conjoiners' cybernetically augmented brains, as well: while most Demarchist technology was heavily computerised — and thus "smart" in interacting with humans —, most Conjoiner technology was borderline sentient, with simulated personalities making them interesting companions to their Conjoiner users. Another such design involved the usage of interior space within Conjoiner ships and habitats: while Demarchist and Ultranaut starships and interplanetary shuttles were often bulked with interior volume, including large, empty living quarters, Conjoiner ships, especially smaller ones, would dispense with such luxurious spaces, with the Conjoined wedging their bodies into unlit, compacted compartments, jammed in with machinery; in such cases, the Conjoined would voluntarily neurologically shut down their own proprioception so as not to experience claustrophobia (this also had the added benefit of preventing their bodies from floating around or banging into surfaces during ship maneouvres). In extreme cases of this principle, the Conjoined would even (though it was not common knowledge among baseline humans) have their living brains removed and embalmed in cushioning gel, hooked up to elaborate life-support systems, and in this state would take all of their necessary stimulation and interaction with the world cybernetically through their implants.
Possibly the most significant application of the Conjoiner mental enhancement programme was known as Exordium. This was a technology which allowed the Conjoined to place their implants into a quantum superposition of all their possible brain states; allowing, among other things, Conjoiners to glean information about all other quantum alternative instances of themselves, and thus, of all Conjoiners living in parallel quantum universes. They also typically modify their own bodies (often using muscle fibres based on those of chimpanzees) to make themselves physically stronger. Also, at least by the 26th century, more modern Conjoiners possessed a cranial crest. As well as being aesthetically pleasing, it allows dissipation of the huge amounts of thermal energy their super-charged brains produce.
Most Conjoiners perceived the cultural barrier between themselves and baseline humans as essentially insurmountable, and insisted that the indescribable experience of being Conjoined, as well as the vastly elevated states of consciousness associated with Transenlightenment, are by definition incomprehensible to non-Conjoined humans. Episodes where baseline humans experience Transenlightenment (or even just its glimpses) seem to confirm this. Once a person experienced Transenlightenment, they always proved incapable of resuming life as an un-Conjoined individual. Indeed, among themselves they pejoratively referred to the un-Conjoined collectively as the retarded, and regarded the prospect of leaving the Conjoined hive as akin to losing all of one's senses and faculties and permanently vegetating in unbearable, utter isolation. Even the thought of leaving temporarily and returning to the hive was regarded with abhorrence, and taking back a once disconnected Conjoiner was regarded as an act of sacrificial, condescending mercy, as the desolate pain of the temporary isolation would permeate through the Transenlightenment and all of the Conjoined would know a little more deeply the trauma and depression experienced by their formerly excommunicated comrades. Though Transenlightenment was regarded by those who experienced it as a previously unimaginable boon, and an endlessly rich source of intellectual, social, and personal stimulation and a permanent eudaimonic wellspring, corollarily, its subsequent absence would be felt as inhuman deprivation.
This cultural barrier sometimes backfired on the Conjoiners as a collective as well, as it was often difficult or impossible for any non-Conjoined human to truly understand the intentions, thoughts, or motivations of one of the Conjoined — this being a constant source of tension. One of the major causes of the initial schism between the baseline humans of Earth and the Mother Nest of Conjoiners on Mars was the miscommunication over the nature of Transenlightement. During the early stages of the Transenlightenment, Galiana's Conjoiners believed so sincerely that the new gestalt consciousness they had become was so self-evidently superior to, and desirable over, earlier forms of human experience that they sought to covertly uplift all humans remotely by subtly commandeering their ordinary neural implants, broadcasting a "viral" network signal which was perceived by the non-Conjoined as a massive, concerted effort at species-wide brainjacking. Given the fact that these new Conjoiners, including all those whose ordinary implants were subverted by the initial "attack", immediately took on their characteristic peculiarities (elective mutism, total lack of visible external affect, etc.), the un-Conjoined humans believed their kin to have been virtually enslaved by Galiana and her cult of Martian cybernetic fanatics. When these newly Conjoined were restrained and their implants forcibly removed (effectively amputating them from the broader Conjoined hive), they proved incapable of resuming their original lives, instead living out the rest of their (usually short) days in traumatic shock over their inability to experience Transenlightenment, begging and pleading to be allowed to leave their families and homes and travel to the Mother Nest, trying to convince the un-Conjoined to voluntarily join the Mother Nest, and ultimately, invariably, taking their own lives. The horrific toll this took on many families and communities on Earth was invisible to the Conjoiners, while the agony of isolation from the Transenlightenment was unimaginable to the un-Conjoined. All of this contributed to the formation on Earth of the Coalition for Neural Purity, whose undisguised policy was genocide against the Conjoiners of Mars.
Even many centuries later, when the normally sympathetic (and politically/economically allied) Demarchy of Yellowstone invited the Conjoiner Mother Nest in that system to aid in rebuilding Chasm City after the Melding Plague devastated it, only a few decades transpired before the radical social and technological changes introduced by the massive influx of Conjoiner population to the City resulted in escalating tensions, leading eventually to a war between the Demarchists and the Conjoined. Even though there were no subversive or clandestine efforts to spread Transenlightenment by the Mother Nest, the dawning realisation that Chasm City, the jewel of Demarchist culture across many star systems, was now largely peopled, designed, and run by a group which was, to those outside it, invincibly opaque and alien, was enough to lead to the violent expulsion of all Conjoined in the Yellowstone planetary system, best-intentions or not.
Conjoiners are typically so used to being part of a group mind, that most experience disquiet or worse if cut off from other Conjoiners even to a modest degree. Even a sufficiently small group of the Conjoined, if isolated and left without the sort of intelligent computer networks used in all of their technology, would grow disturbed at the void they felt where they would usually experience the gestalt thoughts of many others. As such it was very rare for Conjoiners to ever voluntarily travel in groups of less than three or some other small multiple, as even high Demarchist abstraction was unable to replicate the experience of Transenlightenment, designed as it was, even at its height of sophistication, merely to entertain and exercise baseline unenhanced human singletons. The few Conjoiners who were capable of operating by themselves were viewed with ambivalence by the rest of Conjoiner society, and they themselves were specially trained to withhold themselves from the fullness of Transenlightenment when doing so would protect the hive, even though doing so hurt them privately — a recursive difficulty for Conjoiners, to whom private suffering, let alone self-imposed private suffering, was a vastly alien and ugly concept. Notable individuals with this capability include Clavain, Khouri, Skade, and Remontoire. Clavain and Khouri joined at older ages than normal, and Clavain had early generation implants (though not uniquely so); Skade was trained in isolated operation, and later was supported by the alien construct known as Mademoiselle.
Although Conjoiners seemed monolithic and a dronelike hive mind to outsiders, they each possessed their own varied and distinct personalities and deep divisions of thought and opinion still persisted amongst them. Clavain later told other characters that each Conjoiner is in fact different and has a different mind as all humans do; baseline humans simply cannot see it. Similarly, though their particular characteristics, such as mutism and flat affect, seem to baseline humans to be signs of inward disorder or antisociality, among the Conjoined the physical expression of inner psychological states was regarded as purely superfluous. Conjoiners experienced all the richness of human existence and more; their lives were, in fact, endlessly rewarding and stimulating, with every Conjoined person permanently entranced in a psychological flow state, at any time achieving somewhere in the vicinity of their full potential — always richly socialised and never lonely, never bored, always putting their minds to interesting tasks, and always, always learning. This gestalt of communal activity, known as the Transenlightenment, was simply invisible except on wavelengths beyond the sight of unaugmented human eyes. When Clavain was first incepted by Transenlightenment, his experience (as Conjoiner nanomachines repaired and restructured his nervous system) was in seeing that the apparently drab, grey, and barren domiciles of Galiana's Mother Nest on Mars, were, in fact, suffused with light.
The Conjoiners were first introduced in the short story "The Great Wall of Mars", which was first published in Spectrum SF #1, in February 2000, but republished in the collection of short Novellas, Galactic North (2006). At this point, the Conjoiners lived on Mars and the Transenlightenment was relatively recent. The story includes Nevil Clavain, initially an outsider, meeting Galiana and Remontoire, and then joining the Conjoiners. The Conjoiners are barely mentioned in the novels Revelation Space (2000) and Chasm City (2001), but are the centre of the short story "Glacial", first published in Spectrum SF #5 in March 2001, again republished in Galactic North (2006), which takes place at humanity's first interstellar colony. The Conjoiners are the central focus of the next novel, Redemption Ark (2002), and feature prominently in the following novel, Absolution Gap (2003).
In the afterword of Galactic North, Alastair Reynolds comments that the Conjoiners are not an entirely new concept, and may owe some of their origin to the Human Hive-mind culture from Michael Swanwick's Vacuum Flowers.
The Demarchists (pejoratively referred to by outsiders as zombies) are a faction of humanity who have a political system of democratic anarchy, or Demarchy. According to Reynolds' short story "A Spy in Europa", the Demarchy functions by means of a neural implant that constantly seeks the user's opinion on aspects of Demarchist life. This constant prompting eventually fades away into the user's neural background, much like the ticking of a clock might fade away into background noise for most people. The Yellowstone Demarchy, which is the main Demarchy in human space by the time of the events in Revelation Space also uses such a technique. The nature of the Demarchy's political process is further explored in The Prefect. The voting process is run by "Polling Cores" in Demarchist cities and space stations. Each core is tasked with collecting and processing votes, and serves subsequently in disaggregating the results of each poll according to the consequences of democratic outcomes. Citizens who regularly make "good" decisions on civic issues, based on analysis of decision-making outcomes, have their votes weighted for more in subsequent polls. Other known Demarchies include the Haven and Europan Demarchies (the latter appears to have risen and fallen multiple times) as well as Fand, Grand Teton and many other colonies in other star systems.
Until the time of the Melding Plague, there were several powerful families within the Yellowstone Demarchy, one of the most influential being House Sylveste which controlled SISS or Sylveste Institute for Shrouder Studies, as well as SIAM or Sylveste Institute for Artificial Mentation (before it was destroyed by Panoply during The Clockmaker incident). It later organized the archaeological expedition to Resurgam. They were immensely wealthy, being the closest thing to royalty in the Yellowstone system. Notable characters from House Sylveste include Dan Sylveste, who led the Resurgam expedition, and Calvin Sylveste, who is known for the Eighty.
The Demarchists (particularly the Yellowstone Demarchy) used to have expertise in nanotechnology, life-extension, and biological alterations, among other things. They also utilised a sophisticated information network known as abstraction. Abstraction was used to simulate environments and co-ordinate servitors and other robots. The height of Demarchist society, the Belle Époque, was only brought low by the Melding Plague, which pushed Chasm City, the main city of the Yellowstone Demarchy, into a Dark Age lasting forty years.
Later, after the Conjoiners stepped in to help revive Chasm City, the Demarchists, unhappy with their new role as second fiddle, declared war on the Conjoiners, a war which first went well as the Conjoiners, thanks to their hive-mind nature, became predictable on the battlefield. The return of the war-hero Clavain ended that, and by the time of the events in the book Redemption Ark only the most partisan of Demarchists would even deny an eventual Conjoiner victory. In any case, human civilisation around Yellowstone was destroyed by the time of Absolution Gap by the Inhibitors.
Demarchist weaponry, among other things, consists of antimatter munitions (or "pinhead" bombs, called such as the tiny amount of antimatter necessary for such weapons can be stored in minute vessels), typically antilithium, and massive rail guns that accelerate foam-phase metallic hydrogen to a massive speed using a series of timed detonations along a barrel. They also utilise various ionisation-particle weapons and compact "fold-out" beam weapons.
In the afterword of Galactic North, Alastair Reynolds comments that the Demarchists are not his own invention. He credits the Joan D. Vinge book The Outcasts of Heaven Belt as the inspiration for the Demarchist Society.
A human/humanoid faction similar to Ultras in that they spend most of their time in ships. Other than the fact that there is a Skyjack presence somewhere in the vicinity of Yellowstone (or its system), little else is known. The name appears to be derived from 'steeplejack,' craftsmen who use scaffolding and pulleys to scale and repair buildings. Skyjacks seem to be comet and asteroid miners who presumably keep an eye out for salvage and other items of interest. Mention is made in Redemption Ark of Skyjacks tethering themselves to comets and drilling test bores. An unnamed Skyjack is also featured in Absolution Gap as the architect of the glass bridge that spans an immense gap. After the bridge is destroyed a video message of the Skyjack is transmitted across the moon lamenting the loss of the bridge. Reynolds makes only a few references to Skyjacks in his novels. The only Skyjack ever mentioned by name is Trollhattan, a master glassblower famous for incredibly intricate room-size glass creations, some so delicate that they cannot support themselves even in the weaker gravity of a moon. Trollhattan's limbs are robotic, like those of many Ultras, but it is not clear just how common such augmentations are among Skyjacks.
Ultranauts are a faction of transhuman spacefarers. The majority of Ultras who appear in the books have opted for extensive and obvious mechanical modifications, replacing their original limbs and organs, but while this is their most obvious and apparently widespread trend, not all Ultras utilise such modifications. Ilia Volyova, one of the central Ultra characters of the books, has no obvious modifications and is still described as an Ultra, while in Chasm City other characters such as Zebra, who have opted for extreme body modification, are not described as such, indicating that the term may refer either to something biological that is shared by all Ultras, or may possibly be an honorific for those who have served as crew aboard a lighthugger. In The Prefect, it is stated that an Ultra can look fully human "and yet be crawling with furtive and dangerous machinery." All the Ultras encountered in the books have lived long lives, partly due to long periods of cryopreservation or "reefersleep" during interstellar transit, partly due to the time-dilating effects of near-lightspeed travel, and partly due to their willingness to replace failing organs and limbs with mechanical alternatives, but possibly also due to genetic modifications intended to fit them for space travel.
In Revelation Space, a quirk of Ultra society is described (referred to again in Diamond Dogs); for each session in reefersleep, they grow and maintain a dreadlock as a badge of their status, although they are also described as using these status symbols as stakes in gambling games, and once again, Ilia Volyova, although an Ultra, does not sport these dreadlocks. Aesthetics do appear to be of greater concern to most Ultras than more pragmatic concerns such as functionality and reliability. Some of the more extensively modified Ultras described in the books have, apparently intentionally, turned themselves into living sculptures. This extravagance is consistent with their demonstrative behaviour towards other humans: Ultras take every opportunity to emphasize their otherness to the planetside dwellers (who they deem quaint), and to visibly distance themselves from any accepted notions of being human. Such intimidating manner and appearance are also intentionally used as leverage in commercial negotiations, as seen in Chasm City.
Unlike other factions in the Revelation Space universe, such as the Conjoiners and Demarchists, there appears to be no unifying political structure or philosophical school of thought behind Ultra society. Although extremely isolated from the rest of humanity during their long voyages, they do not appear to form particularly close associations even within crews; for the crews of the Nostalgia For Infinity (Revelation Space) and of the Gnostic Ascension (Absolution Gap), power struggles and mistrust are presented as the normal state of affairs. However, neither crew is exactly normal; shipmaster Inigo Standish in Galactic North comments that Ultras like these crews are a minority.
These factions were centered on a particular planet or system. There is no evidence that the Coalition For Neural Purity ever existed beyond the Solar System or survived after the Conjoiner exodus, and the Inundationist faction was based solely on the planet Resurgam.
Coalition For Neural Purity
A faction that existed around the year 2190 after Galiana created the Conjoiners. As its name implies, the Coalition For Neural Purity regarded artificial brain implants as abomination. There are hints that it also vehemently opposed genetic enhancement of intelligence in animals and humans. Due to its disavowal of such technologies, the Coalition soon fell scientifically well behind the Demarchists and the Conjoiners.
The Coalition fought the Conjoiners in a war across the solar system, in which Clavain and John Brannigan fought for the Coalition (although both defected eventually). The Demarchists remained neutral in the conflict, but were secretly allied with the Conjoiners. Weaponry used involved robotic worms that could self repair and eat opponents, bioweapons and advanced suits that appeared to use nanotechnology. The Coalition was eventually victorious in the war and forced the Conjoiners to remain on Mars, trapped by a satellite defence network. The Conjoiners eventually escaped Mars by hollowing out one of Mars' moons and creating a lighthugger in its core, which left the solar system. The fate of the Coalition after this is unknown, but it is alluded to in Redemption Ark that the Coalition was no longer active by the time the main events in the series take place.
A faction which arises on Resurgam during Dan Sylveste's expedition there; beyond opposition to Sylveste's control of the colony, the Inundationists favour taking steps to terraform the planet — potentially destroying the archaeological evidence that the expedition was originally intended to uncover. Under the leadership of Nils Girardieu, Inundationists take over Resurgam and imprison Dan Sylveste. Later, an extreme wing of this faction calling itself True Path splits from the Inundationists and starts a guerilla war against Girardieu's government. True Path insurrection continues until the Nostalgia for Infinity arrives at Resurgam. The planet is destroyed not long after.