Absolution Gap by Alastair Reynolds

Anthony G Williams

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I read the first three Revelation Space books by Alastair Reynolds over a decade ago, before I began this blog: Revelation Space (published in 2000), Chasm City (2001) and Redemption Ark (2002). I stopped reading the series after that, possibly because I needed a break from the not insignificant effort involved in grappling with his complex plots, dense writing and very lengthy stories. I therefore missed the next one in the series – Absolution Gap (2003) – although I did read a stand-alone novel, Pushing Ice (2005), a couple of years ago and reviewed it in this blog.

On looking through my reading pile (which goes back decades) I noticed Absolution Gap sitting there so decided to give it a spin. I remember virtually nothing of the earlier books – reading the Wiki plot summaries rang only the faintest of bells – and I wasn't about to devote weeks to reading them all again, so I started "cold" and can only assess it as a stand-alone novel.

Typically of Reynolds, the structure is complex with several threads running in parallel, set in different places and at different times (to be precise; 2615, 2675 and 2727, with the prologue and epilogue set four centuries later). Fortunately the location and date of each chapter are signalled at the start, so it's not too confusing as long as you pay attention. However, while two of the threads are new, one (2675) is a continuation of events and characters in Redemption Ark and no concessions are made to those unfamiliar with the earlier novels, with the first summary of previous events occurring around page 200. Since your reviewer recalled nothing of these, he was left somewhat groping in the dark (not an unusual occurence…).

Anyway, the 2615 thread is fairly brief, dealing with the discovery of Haldora, a gas giant with the disconcerting habit of occasionally vanishing for a fraction of a second. The 2727 thread is set in the same location on the airless but settled world of Hela, Haldora's moon, where a precocious teenage girl is searching for her long-lost brother in a strange environment of vast baroque self-propelled cathedrals which move along a fixed track around the moon to keep Haldora overhead, so that the inhabitants can observe the vanishings which are the key element of their religion. In between, the 2675 thread is set on the watery world of Ararat, a refuge from a war between humanity – especially the Conjoiners, who have neural implants to enhance their capabilities – and the Inhibitors, an ancient alien force designed to destroy advanced civilisations. But they are not left alone for long, and the two threads eventually combine.

Absolution Gap is packed full of concepts and races, some of which are left dangling. For example the Pattern Jugglers of Ararat, a oceanic "world mind" with the capacity to absorb the minds (and sometimes bodies) of humans who swim in it; and the Shadows, the Nestbuilders and the Greenfly, mysterious alien races of which the last two are only described in the epilogue. In fact, the epilogue reads a little like an outline of a sequel which the author had lost interest in writing. At 660 pages of small font text, this is not a quick read. Nonetheless I was absorbed from the start and spent most of one transatlantic flight reading it.

Two points are worth mentioning about Reynolds' writing: first, it is very good indeed, comparable with Iain M Banks (although without the dry humour); second, his Revelation Space universe, while optimistic as far as the continued survival of humanity is concerned, is no utopia, and don't expect "happily ever after" endings. Nonetheless, readers new to the Revelation Space series are in for a treat in terms of top-quality hard SF provided that you are prepared to set aside a lot of time to read them carefully, preferably at fairly short intervals so that you can remember previous events. There is one other novel set in the Revelation Space universe, The Prefect (2007), which is a prequel to the other four, plus some short stories.

(An extract from my SFF blog: http://sciencefictionfantasy.blogspot.co.uk/)
 

Bugg

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Great review Anthony. I'd highly recommend reading the short story collection, Galactic North, as it ties up a lot of the loose ends you mention, and is just a great read to boot :)
 

Rodders

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A nice review. I would also consider Diamond Dogs and Turquoise Days too. A very good read.

I do hope that AR returns to his Revelation Space Universe soon.
 

Gramm838

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I agree - I always thought that Absolution Gap was the best of the 'core' Revelation Space stories...I'd like to see a story about the Lighthugger crews (Firefly-ish in the Revelation Space universe!)
 

Bick

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I have to say, I'm really struggling with this book. Nearly gave up on it last night. Its not just that its overly long (it is) or that you have to concentrate like mad to remember every little strand of plot to understand what's going on (you do), but that the ideas and direction its taking are increasingly 'unlikely'. I know it's SF, so it's all rather unlikely in a sense, but Reynolds seems to delight in wheeling out increasingly bizarre and ridiculous solutions to the problems he sets up. He's also maddeningly inconsistent in the power of the inhibitors.
In RA the Inhibitors are capable of dismantling planets and destroying worlds and yet I've just read in AG that they are fighting toe to toe around Arakis, and were unable to stop a single small ship from getting to the planet surface. Are you kidding me? Why don't they just completely ignore the poxy humans and just dismantle the planet in their own sweet time? Why bother 'fighting' at all? Reynolds is making stuff up so the rather daft plot doesn't go completely off the rails.

I'm on about page 200, and if it doesn't get better soon I'll probably give it up. Which is a heck of a shame, given I've devoted the time it took it to read the first two tomes. I enjoyed RS and RA rather more -they were pretty good, despite some very silly 'science' at the end of RS that I hated.
The 'incorporation' of humans into to the 'Hades matrix' is just about the stupidest SF idea I've ever read!
 

Venusian Broon

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I have to say, I'm really struggling with this book. Nearly gave up on it last night. Its not just that its overly long (it is) or that you have to concentrate like mad to remember every little strand of plot to understand what's going on (you do), but that the ideas and direction its taking are increasingly 'unlikely'. I know it's SF, so it's all rather unlikely in a sense, but Reynolds seems to delight in wheeling out increasingly bizarre and ridiculous solutions to the problems he sets up. He's also maddeningly inconsistent in the power of the inhibitors.

I'm on about page 200, and if it doesn't get better soon I'll probably give it up. Which is a heck of a shame, given I've devoted the time it took it to read the first two tomes. I enjoyed RS and RA rather more -they were pretty good, despite some very silly 'science' at the end of RS that I hated.
Hi Bick!

I have to say after a great start in Revelation space and barring a few glaring (huge) mishaps, the next - Redemption Ark was tighter, better and more fun...

...I really struggled with Absolution Gap. Personally it felt like it was a 'holding' novel till he got to the real end of the 'trilogy' in another book. I think he got side-tracked with another idea, shoehorned it into the inhibitor story and the end...well, I felt let down. I'll leave it at that.
 

Bick

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Many thanks for your (confirmatory) comments, VB. They don't exactly instill renewed confidence it will pick up. I'm really in two minds whether to bother with the remaining 500 pages.
 

Venusian Broon

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Sorry about that! However what you were describing, was very much how I felt when going through the novel. Whereas with Redemption Ark I couldn't put it down and raced through it, this one...well I found myself doing other things rather than finish it. To be fair it has it's moments and does pick up, but...could have been a lot better, I feel.
 

Gzarback

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I just finished the audible for Absolution Gap. Reynolds was fast climbing my list of favorite authors after reading revelation space, chasm city, pushing ice, house of suns.
However, the authors extreme skill in building up the story into a epic moment...and then denying you completely any details of that conclusion, is killing my enjoyment. He did the same thing with Redemption Ark, and I was ready to drop him then - but I had already purchased the audible for Absolution Gap and was invested in the story conclusion.
I'm still invested in the story conclusion, and still wondering what happened. Reynolds, if you ever read this stuff, take this criticism: readers do not enjoy stories half-told.
I also have already purchased revenger, blue remembered earth, prefect, century rain and am considering returning them, cautious of wasting my time after this debacle.
 

Bick

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Reynolds, if you ever read this stuff, take this criticism: readers do not enjoy stories half-told.
I also have already purchased revenger, blue remembered earth, prefect, century rain and am considering returning them, cautious of wasting my time after this debacle.
Interesting. I never did finish Absolution Gap - the inconsistencies with the prior books and the lack of story arc connection to them made it so unappealing that I gave up shortly after my comments posted above and sold the trilogy to a local used books store. I don't plan on bothering to read any more Reynolds, as I feel he wasted a month of my reading life... sad but true... so you're not alone in having deep misgivings.
 
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