Alastair Reynolds – Absolution Gap (2003) Review

Absolution Gap

  • Genre: science fiction
  • series: Revelation Space 3 (or 4)
  • My rating: 8.5/10

Numerous negative reviews online had scared me away from buying this book for the longest time. But a feeling that I should continue Clavain’s story nagged at me, and a few hundred pages in I’m very satisfied with my purchase. Absolution Gap has many elements that I would not have wanted to miss.

Absolution Gap brings us back to the story of Scorpio and Nevil Clavain, who is more or less the main character of the Revelation Space series. When we last saw him in Redemption Ark, he was a confident, badass character, in an old man sort of way. Having lived for a few hundred years already, and having accrued a number of heartaches and enemies along the way, Clavain was a soft-spoken, centered and commanding character and much more sympathetic than Dan Sylveste in Revelation Space.

Redemption Ark ended with him and Scorpio the hyperpig and a hundred thousand survivors of Resurgam stranded on an out-of-the-way planet. Clavain’s enemies and allies were still on their way towards him, but space travel being what it is, it took them another few decades to reach Clavain. In the meantime, him and the survivors started their own colony. Now we find Clavain as a moody recluse, like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars Episode 8 living on an island. But after 20 years of rest, the war between the Conjoiners and the Inhibitors has arrived on their doorstep.

We also follow two new storylines that are quite interesting on their own, but if you’re primarily interested in the continuing story of Clavain you’ll need to practice some patience at the start. Horris Quaiche is a prospector for the lighthugger Gnostic Ascension. The lives of him and his girlfriend Morwenna depend on Quaiche finding riches, and he discovers alien artifacts on a faraway moon. Another storyline is set on that same moon, but a hundred years later. The inhabitants follow the Quaicheist religion and pilgrims flock to the moon to observe the mysterious vanishing of a nearby gas giant.

Reynolds’ writing style has definitely improved compared to Revelation Space. The prose flows easier and the descriptions don’t grind down the storytelling too much, as they did once. And while Revelation Space was a smorgasbord of every little futuristic idea that Reynolds could cram into a single novel, by Absolution Gap the story has slowed down and gained focus.

It’s the plot that’s questionable. Reynolds never was one for three-act or five-act story arcs, and Redemption Ark already had odd turns in its story and strange accelerations and stretched-out parts and, most of all, lacked a sense of conclusion. Absolution Gap has all the same issues. For a space opera there is not a lot of space travel here. Everyone just mostly stays put on their planets and I was hoping for some more movement, action and technological wonder. That is not to say that the planet-bound stories here are without memorable scenes, and the Conjoiners are still my favourite cyborgs.

The Conjoiners, yes, I find it very interesting how Reynolds describes their mental architecture. The speed of their thought and their computerized way of thinking are described very explicitly. It feels futuristic even 15 years after publication. (Has it been that long?  I still find every novel published after 2000 to be “recent”.) The society on Hela is also very imaginative. The whole deal with indoctrinal viruses, blood inquisition and moving cathedrals is a thing of creative brilliance. Particularly the story on Hela and the building feeling of dread that humanity is being wiped out system by system are fine additions to the Revelation Space series.

Looking back at the whole Revelation Space series, I find the whole greater than its parts. All the individual novels have their flaws. Revelation Space was written clunkily and overstuffed; Redemption Ark and Absolution Gap were unevenly plotted and lacked resolution. And the overarching storyline had no focus, many loose ends and effectively need a collection of short stories to finish up nicely. Clavain was thrown into Redemption Ark without a proper introduction, and the resolution to Absolution Gap and the whole series can be found in another short story.

But the Revelation Space universe is just so cool. It has a gothic atmosphere of the grotesque, built upon a bleak idea of unforgiving space. We follow its societies over the course of hundreds of years, from science that we can still understand towards more and more stranger futuristic concepts as the centuries go by. Almost every SF concept is represented in this universe and clicks together in a wholly unique vision. The series remains Reynolds’ best work.

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1 Response to Alastair Reynolds – Absolution Gap (2003) Review

  1. Pingback: TOP 100 SCI-FI BOOKS | A Sky of Books and Movies

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